Jeetendra accused of sexual assault by cousin after 47 years: Bollywood's true horror stories begin
Survivors, as in this case, often embrace silence fearing an ugly fallout.
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At 75, Bollywood actor and producer Jeetendra finds himself facing allegations of sexual abuse. According to an India Today report, the veteran actor’s cousin (who has not been named at her request) claimed that she was abused years ago under the pretext of being taken to a film shoot.
At the time of the incident, she was 18 and he was around 28. In her complaint, the woman writes: “[Jeetendra] arrived at my family home in a car with a driver and two male industry colleagues. I joined my cousin in the car and the group drove from New Delhi to the movie set in Shimla together. During the long drive, no one spoke to me. When we arrived in Shimla, it was night time. The group went directly to the hotel. [Jeetendra] brought me to his hotel room, which contained two separate beds. He mentioned that he was going out and would return later. Tired from the journey, I went to sleep on the far bed, which was pushed against the wall on two sides.”
“Later that night while I was sleeping, [Jeetendra] returned to the room. He joined the two beds together while I was still asleep. As I rested on my side, facing the wall, he entered the bed and mounted me from behind with his penis erect. [Jeetendra] smelled strongly of alcohol and was naked from the waist down. I tried to push him away, but he continued to stimulate himself, rubbing his erect penis against my clothed buttocks. When I continued to push him away, he insisted that was how he sleeps. Trapped between the wall on one side, and my erect cousin on the other, no escape was possible. After rubbing his penis against me for several minutes, [he] eventually lost his erection and left me alone. He separated the beds and slept silently in the room that night.”
The following morning, Jeetendra did not speak to her, got the driver to buy her some new clothes and sent her back to Delhi.
According to the report, the woman said that the incident affected her mental health, and the reason she has come out with it now is because she wanted closure for the trauma she suffered for years after the alleged abuse. She also claimed that another reason why she waited such a long time (more than four decades) to file a complaint against Jeetendra is because her parents — now deceased — would have been heartbroken had they found out that she was sexually abused by their nephew.
This allegation mirrors the series of revelations in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Survivors of sexual abuse and rape, who have held their silence for years fearing persecution and social stigma, have made a departure from this “tradition” and taken to opening up about their suffering.
The woman's claims also open up two other issues that need to be brought into the discourse more often. The first being sexual abuse and the other the stigma it comes with, especially when the abuser is someone in the family. According to a 2014 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, 86 per cent of rapes are committed by close family members such as fathers, brothers and uncles, as well as neighbours, employers, co-workers and friends. Survivors, as in this case, often embrace silence, fearing an ugly fallout — not just in the society, but also within their families.
A common first reaction to any mention of sexual assault (especially committed by someone within or close to the family) is disbelief or denial. This often forces survivors into silence. Another important factor is that proximity to the abuser/assaulter makes it difficult for people to process what happened, and not look at it as one would at any other instance of molestation or rape.
A Feminism in India essay on child sexual abuse in India notes that “incest and child sexual abuse like any other form of violence is supported by the inherent power discrepancies that inform our families and societies”.
The other important issue that needs to be urgently addressed is the silence of Bollywood on sexual abuse and harassment in the industry. Actor and feminist activist Kalki Koechlin, in an interview to BBC News, elaborated on this silence: “People don’t listen to you if you are a nobody, but if you are a celebrity it only becomes a shocking headline. It is a very difficult step to take. Because it’s their career on the line. You are dealing with hundreds of people throwing their opinions at you,” she says, adding that “it can shake you emotionally.”
While this case, unlike that of Harvey Weinstein and other predatory men in the entertainment world, is not from within the industry, it is similar to assault charges against Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey. His Star Trek: Discovery co-star Anthony Rapp alleged that in 1986, when he was still a teen, Spacey molested him.
If the allegations hold true, both Jeetendra and Spacey have taken advantage of their influential positions as famous actors, abused their star power to attack people who were much younger and trusted them. Both stars were supposedly under the influence of alcohol; even if they were inebriated, it should be no reason for assault.
At 1971, Jeetendra was at the height of his fame. He was a wealthy star with an established name in the film industry. It is undoubtedly yet another story of a man taking advantage of the power dynamics that were skewed in his favour.
It is therefore not wrong to see this complaint as one of the first #MeToo stories from Bollywood.