Film action director Sham Kaushal has issued an ‘unconditional’ apology after being accused of sexual harassment by a female assistant whom he pestered on an outdoor film shoot in 2006. Kaushal allegedly showed her pornographic material on his phone. On his Twitter account, he wrote: “I have tried my best to be a good human professionally and personally, never wishing to hurt or disrespect anyone. I have read the allegations made against me by some crew members.
I unconditionally apologise to the ladies, to the production houses and each and every member of the film fraternity.” It is interesting to note that since the #MeToo movement began dropping bombshells, implicating heavyweights like Sajid Khan and Nana Patekar besides other influential personalities, Kaushal’s has been one of the only apologies tendered in the public domain.
There may be serious legal reasons why an ex-Union Minister accused by 15 women of sustained, predatory harassment over decades cannot apologise to his victims — he’s looking at the very real possibility of jail time. However, in this seemingly endless tsunami of revelations, so many other men felled by more minor, sexual misconduct allegations have had only one response: silence. It’s a (misguided) survival strategy. You pray, fervently, that your name gets lost in the shrillness of this moment and the thousands of new names surfacing daily. You reappear only once the noise dies down, and a new hashtag is trending. For the outed slimes in India right now, it’s not about acknowledging the anguish they caused or taking responsibility for their role in normalising a toxic culture of male privilege.
There’s absolutely no question of saying sorry. It’s about getting away with it, bruised but not finished. The truth is that accepting your role in a sexual crime is a risky proposition. You can make a dignified exit and mollify the public at large, but you run the real risk that nobody will ever have your back. It can destroy a marriage and a career. So far there is no framework for how to handle the aftermath of accusations. What eventually happens to people who lose their jobs for being predators? Contrary to popular perception, most female victims of harassment aren’t fantasising about shoving their tormentors in jail. (Though they should.) Women tend to look at the larger picture. Often, when I want to tick a man off for misbehaving on a plane or oust him from the gym for staring, I find myself thinking, he, too, probably has kids and a wife. How traumatising for them to find out that the main man in their lives is actually a blot on the human species. Compassion stops me from speaking up because I know that with these predators, they need help. Mostly, it’s their own family members who are their first victims.
Forgiveness and forgetting are inextricably intertwined, crucial for people to forge ahead. Harassment involves a wide spectrum of behaviour from inappropriate comments to intimidation, to stalking. Some of this can be dealt with by the perpetrator simply saying sorry. After accusations of sexual misconduct, disappearing from public view actually establishes guilt. The scriptwriter of Sacred Games, Varun Grover, currently reeling under a pretty flimsy anonymous accusation on Twitter about an incident on an IIT campus over 15 years ago, has stuck his ground. Grover has penned a long and lucid open letter about the trauma he’s undergone just by being mentioned alongside established harassers like Alok Nath and Subhash Ghai. He denies wrongdoing and makes a reasonable request that once counter questions are raised by an accused, the movement should make space to verify them.
An accusation is not an abstract concept. It’s real and soul destroying for the person at the receiving end. Because of modern technology, no crime is small enough to escape absolute quantification. Kaushal, by owning up to his own brutishness, has indicated that he may have (submerged) layers of decency. It’s difficult to imagine any apology from a serial harasser that will feel remotely satisfying. Except, for the victim, the value of sleeping through the night — and in the pursuit of closure — it’s wiser to let it go.