Every day seems to bring a new high profile case of sexual harassment in American media. It began with accusations against Harvey Weinstein. This week NPR's senior vice president of news was forced to resign over allegations against him.
But this problem is hardly limited to the U.S. For the past several months one of India's major film industries has been made to face up to similar problems in its own ranks after the sexual assault of a prominent actress. In reaction, women movie stars, directors and other film professionals have formed an unprecedented coalition to fight back.
They call themselves the Women in Cinema Collective, and the group includes some of the biggest names in "Mollywood." That's the nickname for the industry that produces movies in the 35-million-strong South Indian state of Kerala in the local language of Malayalam — and which is not to be confused with "Bollywood," the better known nationwide Hindi-language film industry based in the city of Mumbai.
Launched in May, the WCC has been lobbying both the industry and political leaders for a host of reforms — ranging from setting up an official complaints system through which women could report harassment and get justice to the stipulation that production companies must provide such long-denied basics as toilets appropriate for women on set.
Perhaps no one is more surprised at their newfound activism than the women themselves. "None of us thought we could all stand up and ask for the same thing," says Rima Kallingal, a prominent movie actress. "None of us thought of it."
That all changed on an evening last February, when a Mollywood actress got into a chauffeured car hired by the company producing a film she was working on. According to a judge's summary of allegations made by the state prosecutor, suddenly another vehicle rammed the car from behind. A gang of men jumped out of that vehicle and forced their way into the actress's car. Over the next couple hours they drove around with her as their prisoner, taking photographs and video as they sexually assaulted her.
"I can't even imagine the psychological pressure she went through when she was in that car," recalls Kallingal, who is a close friend of the actress. (As a matter of policy, NPR does not name individuals who are the alleged victims of sexual assaults unless they choose to be identified).