October 16, 2018 / 9:08 AM / in a month

Actress who helped trigger India's #MeToo movement 'inspired by God'

MUMBAI, India (Reuters) - The Bollywood actress who helped trigger the #MeToo movement in India challenging sexual harassment and abuse sees it as part of her religious education after an experience 10 years ago she said effectively ended her career.

FILE PHOTO: Bollywood actor Tanushree Dutta poses for photographs outside an entertainment channel's office in Mumbai, India, October 12, 2018. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

“I feel God used me to start something which had to happen,” Tanushree Dutta told Reuters. “All these women had this buried deep in their hearts out of shame.”

Dutta, who said she was inspired by Christianity, Buddhism, yoga and the #MeToo movement in the United States, said last month that prominent actor Nana Patekar had sexually harassed her on the set of a movie in 2008.

Patekar has denied wrongdoing.

Dutta said Patekar, 67, had demanded she do intimate dance steps with him in one song in the Hindi-language romantic comedy “Horn OK Pleassss”. When she refused, she said, members of a far right-wing Hindu group attacked her car while she was in it, including jumping on the roof and trying to smash the windscreen.

Dutta, who walked out of the movie, went public with the allegations the same day, but was threatened with legal action by the Hindu group and felt so shamed by those questioning her story and by the way the Indian media treated her that she left Bollywood altogether and went to live in the United States.

Other than a few bit parts, she hasn’t worked in a movie since.

“All of that disgusted me - it took my faith and confidence from the industry,” she said in an interview. “I didn’t want to work here. I still kept in touch and did some work which needed short-term commitments.”

Rajendra Shirodkar, Patekar’s lawyer, has sent Dutta a legal notice asking her to apologize to Patekar or face further legal action. He hasn’t specified what that action would be.

The far-right group, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), this month filed a complaint with the police against Dutta for comments she made about their chief. The police in turn filed a defamation case against Dutta, currently under investigation, based on the MNS complaint.

Dutta, on holiday in Mumbai, said she hadn’t intended to bring up the issue in public again until she was asked by a reporter whether the #MeeToo movement would ever come to India.

“My answer was that if what happened to me 10 years ago hasn’t been addressed and hasn’t been brought to justice, then how can any movement happen here?” Dutta said. She then repeated her allegations from 2008.

The subsequent story on the Zoom TV channel set off a barrage of other stories in the Indian media about her allegations.

This time, though, she didn’t back off.

“I knew I had to keep the dialogue going ... and other women would speak out. I was in it deep - there was no way out. I was not going to cow down - not the second time for sure,” she said.

Within days of her story hitting the headlines, a wave of allegations - largely against figures in the media and entertainment industries - has swept across social media in India.

Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Martin Howell and Nick Macfie

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