There's no excuse for sexual harassment: Comedians react to Utsav Chakraborty's sexual misconduct
Kaneez Surka, Jeeya Sethi and Varun Grover speak out against Utsav Chakraborty's sexual misconduct with women; call for change in mindset
"I don't know what I am anymore," states comedian Utsav Chakraborty's Twitter bio. It's ironic, because neither fans nor the comedy fraternity feel like they know who he is anymore, with multiple allegations of sexual harassment surfacing against him, including accusations that he sent sexually explicit messages to minors.
Also ironic was how this came to light after Chakraborty called out a group of Indian men for harassing women aboard an Australian cruise ship. "Saw this on my TL. Interesting for you to comment on how Indian men harass women [sic]," said a YouTuber on Twitter yesterday, and continued the thread by asking Chakraborty, "Did they send unsolicited dick pics, or that's safely only your territory? Or like cry after saying you'll ruin their career if you tell others? Or will they also blame that on the girls?"
The tweet opened a can of worms. Within a couple of hours, many women, including minors, endorsed the woman's tweets and wrote to her with their own accounts of when Chakraborty sent them direct messages (DMs) on social media, asking them to share nudes.
The developments unleashed a slew of responses from the world of stand-up comedy, from shock and disgust, to why-were-the-red-flags-ignored posts. The YouTuber alleged that AIB, the comedy collective that has featured Chakraborty in some of its videos, knew of this side to the comedian. During the course of the day, AIB issued a statement condemning Utsav's alleged misdemeanour.
'The men must have known'
Jeeya Sethi, stand-up comic and producer of comedy events that often feature women-only line-ups, said, "Men are as aware of their creepy friends as women are. But the problem is, they have each other's back. And women think twice before bringing such behaviour to the fore because who wants drama in their life?" She recalls a meeting that was organised by stand-up artistes in Mumbai some months ago to discuss ways of making comedy a safe space for women.
"There were about 30 men and four women in the meeting. But what most men were doing was trying to find loopholes. 'What works on-stage versus off-stage?' 'Who has the power to decide what's appropriate and what's not?' were questions that got discussed, as opposed to a genuine will to ensure women comedians were not harassed or bullied," she says.
Comedian Kaneez Surka, who has appeared in AIB videos but hasn't worked with Chakraborty, says that while there is greater awareness, especially in the comedy community, about appropriate sexual conduct, the actions don't match up. "Men at large need to just start respecting us more. There is no excuse for sexual harassment," she says.
Male comics ashamed
Several male comedians have called the revelations a wake-up call for the industry. "It's a serious failure of the entire comedy community if things have come to this stage. We had a new industry that could have easily been taught the meaning of equality and respect. We blew that chance. Ashamed," tweeted Varun Grover.
"As a man, I am ashamed. It's a pathetic state of affairs. We are dealing with the same state of problems that Bollywood is - women are not safe, there is nepotism and concentration of power. We have not used our power, liberties and privileges as well as we should have collectively. This is a critique of myself included," political comedian Kunal Kamra said on a phone call from Australia.
Sapan Verma, co-founder of East India Comedy, says that while the collective's members and interns regularly take prevention of sexual harassment workshops, they have been considering putting up zero-tolerance notices in their green rooms. "There is no comedy union, and the definition of a comedian's workplace is very complex," he says, explaining the nature of the industry.
'Don't let it fizzle out'
Adding to the discussion on what needs to be done within the comedy circuit, Surka shares, "Producers need to take into account the kind of people they invite to their shows - it's just beyond me that Louis CK [after admitting to harassment of female colleagues] just walks into Comedy Cellar [a popular comedy club in Manhattan] and starts performing again."
But she also emphasises on the need to not let the discussion fizzle out. "We need to keep talking about this stuff because men need to change their behaviour towards women. Men need to be scared, very scared. Radhika Vaz put out a tweet in the context of the #MeToo movement which said that if nothing else, men will stop behaving badly out of fear. And I agree, if fear stops you from behaving badly, that's good enough."
'I've been a piece of s**t'
Utsav Chakraborty took to Twitter, posting a series of 25-odd tweets, owning up and saying, "from all accounts, I've been a piece of shit." "To me, getting nudes from a person was an instant rush. I was not in pain for that brief moment," he wrote, referring to a disease he has been suffering from. "In my head it was just plain sexting. Because I had made up this egalitarian society where women constantly don't get harassed every waking moment of the day. And I would look at myself and say but I'm so woke. I'm not like *those* guys," Chakraborty continued, ending his side of the story with, "But now I know I have been the exact monster I've been trying to fight all my life. And I would like to do everything I can to make this better for everyone who has been hurt."
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