Union women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi on Wednesday asked leading Bollywood producers and directors to keep the industry free of sexual harassment and comply with laws to ensure a safe, secure and inclusive workplace.
The minister sent a letter to celebrities including Shah Rukh Khan, Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Ekta Kapoor, Vinod Chopra, Mahesh Bhatt, Sooraj Barjatya, Ritesh Sidhwani, Farhan Akhtar, Sajid Nadiadwala, Aamir Khan, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Ashutosh Gowarikar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Subhash Ghai.
“The aim of this law is to ensure that no woman is sexually harassed at her workplace. This is to be followed in letter and spirit by all organisations in the country and I expect you to personally lead these efforts with sincerity and commitment, in accordance with all the applicable laws,” she wrote.
Tens of thousands of women across the world recounted tales of sexual harassment or assault with the hashtag #metoo in October on social media, in the wake of claims against Hollywood moghul Harvey Weinstein.
“As leaders of their organisations, they (Bollywood filmmakers) are ethically and legally accountable for the safety of not only their direct employees, but of all outsourced and temporary staff as well,” Gandhi said.
India in 2013 passed a law to tackle sexual harassment of women at the workplace. But activists say the country has an uphill climb when it comes to equal treatment for women at home, as well as office.
Actress Swara Bhaskar had recently narrated an incident where she was stalked by a director in her early days and was asked for sexual favours in exchange of a film role.
Gandhi had previously mentioned that her ministry is the first in the world to respond to sexual harassment as a government body and has kept a tab on rise in allegations.
The move to deal with sexual harassment at workplace, according to officials in the ministry, gained momentum after complaints of misconduct, rape and molestation rocked Hollywood when over 80 women accused Weinstein.
Actresses said the producer edged closer to them and asked to see their body. One of the victims claimed that Weinstein touched her waist, arms and shoulder. “If you do not take your clothes off, I won’t be able to give you a job,” he allegedly said.
When the woman refused, Weinstein purportedly wanted her to stand in front of a mirror and forcibly puller up her top. The filmmaker had also allegedly asked her if he could watch her take a shower.
The outpouring of allegations on Twitter and Facebook in October also led to the women and child development ministry taking notice.
“This is a proactive step taken by MWCD in the wake of the worldwide social media campaign #MeToo, where women have related their experience of facing sexual harassment and abuse,” a ministry official had previously said.
Popular Malayalam star Gopalakrishnan Padmanabhan Pillai, best known as Dileep, was arrested by police this year after he and others were accused of kidnapping and molesting an actress. Dileep denies the allegations.
A senior official underscored that the letter comes as a move to make the workplace safe for women in the entertainment sector.
“The women and child development ministry had first launched an online complaint management system SHe-Box for the public sector, which later included the private sector. And now with this letter, another sector of the major workforce of India has also been covered,” the official said.