The 3 Mistakes of Chetan Bhagat

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The 3 Mistakes of Chetan Bhagat

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

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esterday, for the first time ever, I immersed myself in the works of Indian author Chetan Bhagat. Not his novels (I’m not into self-harm), but the two lengthy statements he issued on Facebook over the past week after his name was dragged into the raging storm that is the Indian #MeToo movement.

Bhagat has never written a sequel to any of his novels, and I think I know why. The difference between his first and second statements was so stark, he gave my brain whiplash. First, he issued a contrite apology, and then, as accusations piled up, pivoted to a tone-deaf statement chock-full of unwarranted character judgements with a healthy dose of mansplaining.

Let’s look at what happened. Over the past weekend, alongside the shocking story of Vikas Bahl sexually assaulting an employee of Phantom Films, screenshots surfaced of good ol’ Bhagat chatting it up with an unnamed woman. No obscene language was used and it could pass off as an attempt at pick-up (and a stupid one for those who found Bhagat’s demand for women of a “certain IQ” as idiotic as I did). Bhagat told the woman that he was “wooing her”, in the same literal, matter-of-fact manner as an IT guy telling you he’s formatting your hard drive, and “sweet”, “cute”, and “funny” were the compliments paid. Or so he believed.

This may not be the textbook definition of sexual harassment, which is why Bhagat may get away with saying he is not a harasser in this case. However, given that he was married at the time the messages were exchanged, allegations of loose morality and infidelity cropped up. He issued an apology the same day, seeking forgiveness both from the woman in the messages as well as his wife. Now, what happens in a marriage is between a man and his woman. However, what isn’t a private affair, is the very public second statement he issued, five days after his first apology, as a second woman came forward with screenshots of her own.

Who is in the mood for a quick game of spot the differences? In his first apology, he states he felt a “strong connection” with the woman, and that they “hit it off really well” after a couple of meetings. Then, in his second statement, he says he was not interested in this new woman as anything more than a “research subject”. I didn’t know Chetan Bhagat was a scientist, or that he had received government approval to carry out research on human subjects, but maybe those are the perks that come with the honour of judging Nach Baliye.

The thing with internalised misogyny is that it tends to peep through.

Judgement is something Bhagat feels quite comfortable doling out, as his categorising of the woman in question as a “porn writer” reeks of it. If he is to be believed, the woman met him at a shoot, and reached out to him over email to have him co-write a story. He goes on to cherry-pick explicit extracts from a writing sample he says she sent, and sanctimoniously leaves it up to the reader to decide the woman’s intentions and her character. Reading the whole statement, it’s evident his main grouse is being labelled a harasser, but in his zeal to clear his name of that one specific charge, he’s left the door wide open for us to peek in and get an embarrassing look at his inner thoughts.

So, dear C-Bag (may I call you C-Bag to your face?) since you like numbered titles so much, here are the Three Mistakes of Your Public Statement.

Firstly, you don’t get to play the victim card at a time when women are coming forward to share their stories of real oppression. To whine about how this controversy has prevented you from promoting your latest book only makes you look like a self-serving schmuck. You claim that your accuser and the critics of your behaviour are using your famous name to make headlines. But with a book releasing in the midst of #MeToo, the allegation that you’re using a trending topic to garner publicity can just as easily be levelled at you.

The second mistake was trying to mansplain the #MeToo movement. You refrain from doxxing your accuser, but do share that she’s been trolled online since she came forward, and jump to the conclusion that trolls = fake allegations. Even genuine survivors of assault face trolls when they come forward; in fact, Donald Trump trolled Christine Blasey Ford on an international stage when she offered her testimony against Brett Kavanaugh. Thankfully, you don’t get to decide what’s real and fake when it comes to the #MeToo movement.

The third, and most egregious mistake, was sending the messages in the first place. You realised this in your initial apology, so why are you now justifying them as “research” tactics? Even if the woman wrote sexually explicit material, she had approached you in a professional capacity, as a co-author. What made you decide that working environments and “wooing” environments were interchangeable? Even if you backed down after being rejected, even if you came clean to your wife afterwards, even if you aren’t a harasser as you repeatedly insist, those messages were inappropriate to send to a fellow writer with whom you have no intimate relationship.

The thing with internalised misogyny is that it tends to peep through, as it did when Bhagat wrote in One Indian Girl, “Feminist is a wrong term. It should be humanist.” Another example, this one from 2 States: The Story of My Marriage, is the insightful generalisation that “The word ‘future’ and females is a dangerous combination.” Look what you made me do, C-Bag; you made me Google your books. But what’s worse is that by insinuating the woman who shared screenshots of your chat had loose morals because she wrote erotica and claiming to have been wronged by #MeToo movement, you have cast a spotlight on your attitude toward women.

With two high-profile public statements, a new book launch, and a resumption of the press tour promoting it, we’ve heard a lot from Chetan Bhagat this week. Unfortunately, it seems like he’s never heard the saying “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid, than open it and remove all doubt.”

 

Correction: An earlier version of this article implied that the two statements were in response to the same allegation.

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