A few weeks back, Bollywood’s casting director Mukesh Chhabra was suspended as the director of Sushant Singh Rajput and Sanjana Sanghi’s film Kizie Aur Manny following anonymous sexual harassment complaints, on October 19. After being accused of sexual harassment, Fox Star Hindi announced the news of his suspension on social media and wrote, “As a responsible organisation, Star India takes any allegation of sexual harassment of women at workplace very seriously. Hence, Fox Star Studios has suspended the services of Mukesh Chhabra, director of our film Kizie Aur Manny, which is under production, till the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) of M/s Mukesh Chhabra Casting Company concludes its inquiry into the allegations against him." 

Now, according to a latest report in Bombay Times, The Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) has written a letter addressing the Managing Director of Star India, requesting that director Mukesh Chhabra’s ‘arbitrary and illegal suspension’ be revoked immediately. The letter states:

“It is gratifying to know that Star India is committed to an anti-sexual harassment policy and, has recently conducted an inquiry to investigate allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against its CEO, in the light of a recent anonymous complaint. From this, it appears, that the company is well aware that the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act, 2013, (POSH), has well defined procedures for registering and investigating a sexual harassment complaint. The POSH inquiry procedure is based on the principle of natural justice which requires that both the victim and the alleged harasser shall be provided an opportunity to be heard, before any disciplinary action is taken. Disciplinary action may be taken only after the POSH enquiry has been completed, both sides have been duly heard, witness statements recorded and a copy of the findings shared with both the victim and the alleged harasser. It is pertinent to note, that, the POSH Act recognises the possibility of false complaints being filed and mandates equal disciplinary action against false complainants, so that the innocent are not wrongly defamed or charged. However, it has come to our notice, that, in violation of the POSH enquiry procedure and the principle of natural justice as laid down under the POSH Act, a notice has been served on our affiliate, IFTDA’s member, director Mukesh Chhabra, arbitrarily suspending his services as director of the film ‘Kizie Aur Manny’, based on hearsay and anonymous complaints. This is a blatant violation of the enquiry and investigation procedure laid down in the POSH Act.”

Ashoke Pandit, chief advisor to the FWICE told BT, “We want all these cases of sexual harassment to have a firm standing in the court of law. We are all for action against the real culprits but we also want a thorough and evidence-led enquiry into every case of sexual harassment at workplace that emanates from our industry. We want to be very sure so the matter gets a fair trial if it were to reach the court. As a federation, we want to clean this entire process of filmmaking for men and women who have faced harassment. For that, complainants have come to us, like they did in the case of Sajid Khan and Alok Nath. We are following up the cases on our end and we are doing so by following the legal system in place. At the same time, we don’t want anyone to face humiliation or any trouble on the basis of a mere anonymous complaint. In the case of the on-going #MeToo movement, I insist that there should not be penalty before a fair and square enquiry. Powerful organisations — be it a studio, a production house or any other — cannot be doling out ‘justice’ before one is proven guilty. In my personal capacity and in the capacity of the offices that I hold, I am with the person who has been wronged. But without evidence, if members of our crafts are being socially harmed, their reputation is being tarnished without any proven ground, it’s not fair. It takes people years to build a reputation in the industry and with one ouster, one case of being publicly shamed, that person, even without being proven guilty, will suffer for the rest of his life. They will be denied their basic right to earn a living.”

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