Friday, February 26, 2010

How To Empower Women And Then Ridicule Them

I don't really know what to say about this bit of news from across the border, other than recalling Samuel Johnson's not-oft-enough-quoted phrase, that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."

Here's what the Times of India reported (under the headline "Fracas at the fest") about the fallout of the 5th India International Women Film Festival, held in Delhi last December:

"There’s probably more drama surrounding this film festival now than there was in any of the films that were screened when it was going on. Three women filmmakers – Oscar winning screenwriter Jane Campion, Pakistani filmmaker Ayesha Arif Khan, and British director Lipika Pelham, who’s now based in Israel – have alleged harassment at the hands of Bhaskar Deb. He is the husband of Shyamali Bannerjee, the organiser of the India International Women’s Film Festival held in Delhi in December.

The women have alleged, in a letter to minister of state for urban development Saugata Roy, that the film fest was a sham, and that they were all harassed by Deb when he was drunk. ...A TOI report said that in the complaint sent to the UD ministry, Campion and Khan have accused Bannerjee’s husband, Bhaskar Deb, of lewd behaviour and sexual harassment. Roy said, “We have received complaints from two women who attended the film festival, Jane Campion and Ayesha Khan. The matter is now under investigation.” He added that the complaints were not the only issues connected to the organisers. The report said that in the complaint to the ministry, Khan alleged that she “was repeatedly mauled by a drunken Bhaskar and constantly offered alcohol”. Campion also called the festival a sham, saying that she only came to India because the organisers claimed that the fest was connected with the UD ministry. Roy has denied any connection between the fest and the UD ministry.

After these reports emerged, Pelham has made similar allegations. In reports, she’s been quoted as saying that she only attended the festival because she was told Campion would be there. When she finally reached the hotel in Delhi and met Campion, the latter told her that the opening ceremony, scheduled to be held in Vigyan Bhavan, had been cancelled. At the party later, “he (Deb) got up from his seat, came towards me and tried to hug me and kiss me on the cheek. He also put his hand on a Turkish director’s back. We somehow managed to move away. But he just wouldn’t let us be and tried to persuade us to have a drink with him,” is what Pelham was quoted as saying."
Director Jane Campion (Photo: Guardian)

Later on, Jane Campion, speaking to the Guardian denied she had accused Deb Bhaskar of sexual harrassment...

While she denied being harassed personally, she had other issues with what she described as a "fraudulently presented" festival.
"I was not sexually harassed by the festival director's husband and did not make that allegation," she said. "However at least two other delegates I spoke to and a third I heard about, did have bad experiences with the festival director's husband and I hear they went on to make allegations of sexual harassment.
"My own experience of the organisers of the film festival was that they made promises to me which they failed to keep: failure to meet me or any of the other delegates that I spoke to on arrival at the airport, failure to pay for my airline tickets, cancelling the premiere of my film Bright Star at the last moment."
She added: "Never in my entire experience has a film festival been so fraudulently presented and organised. It's a shame for the film-makers, the audience, the funding bodies of the countries involved as well as the Indian government who, it appears from the advertising, sponsored them to some degree."

Now, these are serious allegations, whether the well-regarded director Jane Campion (The Piano, Holy Smoke) was herself sexually harrassed or not. One could yet have been willing, however, to accept that they may all have been due to some sort of major misunderstanding. But guess how the organizers chose to respond. Aside from Deb calling the New Zealand-born Campion "a racist from Australia", this is how, from the Times of India report:

"The organisers, Bannerjee and Deb, have in turn written a letter to the MEA. It says, “Our internal investigation has revealed that this lady Ayesha Arif Khan is an ISI agent from Pakistan and she wanted to stay back in India on any precarious excuse. Her mysterious gesture and aimless roaming around the city... in 2009 was seemingly abnormal.” The letter also says that it is “ridiculous” that allegations have come from Roy two months after the festival. “During their stay in New Delhi they haven’t complained against us, if at all any such incident happened. Jane Campion had left New Delhi without notice on 16th (December, 2009) morning when we explained our situation that her film Bright Star could not be screened at Vigyan Bhawan and that the opening ceremony of the festival has been cancelled,” it adds.
The letter, which requests an ‘enquiry’, adds that Campion was trying “to create chaos inside the hotel reception”, and that filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan tried to intervene. It counters her charges that the fest was “fraudulent”, saying that they’d advertised, and that if the audience did not turn up despite that, it isn’t their fault."

What kind of "internal investigation" could the organizers of a film festival have possibly done to end up with the scurrilous allegations they end up making? Could they be any more predictably pathetic? Incidentally, twenty-something Ayesha Arif Khan, who did a master's in film from Chapman University in the US only last year is currently teaching film in Karachi. How very ISI of her.

Ayesha: drinking tea like ISI types (Photo: TOI)

And yeah, accusing one woman director of lying about sexual harrassment and another of being a racist diva for giving her the short shrift is just the right way to run a women-centred festival isn't it?

This is how the India International Women Film Festival talks about itself:

"India International Women Film Festival is not just a festival alone, rather a mirror of our society. It talks about women empowerment, very much relevant in a developing country like India where gender discrimination is a regular phenomenon in our society."

Well, we certainly know what they mean now about mirroring society. Except that they seem to mirror the worst parts of society. Suffice it to say, the IIWFF ain't getting an award for promoting inter-cultural understanding anytime soon.

And I may not be a soothsayer, but I can pretty much predict where organizations headed by such opportunistic scoundrels (gender sensitive or not) are bound to end up.


Anonymous said...

"I can pretty much predict where organizations headed by such opportunistic scoundrels (gender sensitive or not) are bound to end up."... what, is the IIWFF going to launch Amn Kee Aasha too???

Annie said...

the racist from australia. uff!

Bollytadka said...

They r All animals
nice post

Faisal.K said...

Grt post.

Anonymous said...