“Bol Ke Lab Azaad Hain Tere” – One on One with Ms. Swaroop Sampat
Ms. Swaroop Sampat, in her short stint in the TV and film industry has worked in very well-known TV serials such as “Yeh jo hai zindagi” and movies such as “Ki and Ka”. She was also crowned Miss India in the year 1979, and this epitome of beauty with brains has also done her Ph.D. in Education from the University of Worcester, U.K with a doctoral thesis on drama to enhance life skills in children with learning disabilities. She puts her learnings into practice by working with various government and non-government schools and imparting her valuable knowledge of life skills amongst the lowest strata of the society, thereby making huge impact in gender diversity and its upliftment, and is working passionately and tirelessly towards the cause.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we got a chance to speak to her. Given below is a summary of what we discussed with her:
“There were some unscrupulous characters during my short span of film industry who have propositioned me inappropriately, and I was lucky enough to say no and assert myself, however I am not sure whether every girl is able to do the same.“
You are a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Worcester, with a doctoral thesis on drama to enhance life skills in children with learning disabilities, how do you think your valuable knowledge/ skill can facilitate in sensitizing the industry towards diversity in individuals and making it inclusive and respectful?
So life skills are the main thing. Life skills entail acquiring a set of skills to overcome and face difficulties. It helps you become resilient, in critical thinking etc. Everyone has problems and life skills teach you how to handle problems better and empowers everybody irrespective of gender. From the perspective of sexual harassment, one needs to understand that sexual harassment works both ways and it is also necessary to understand the mindset of the abuser, who himself may have been a victim of abuse, or undergoing some emotional distress due to societal or family pressures, or even a chemical imbalance in his brain. In order to curb such incidents one needs to analyze the mindset and thought process of the abuser which will facilitate in finding a long term solution. Since we are all humans and are filled with emotions, we need to understand and channelize them properly and life skills also teaches you just that by helping in streamlining your anger, along with ensuring that whatever your emotions, you display them appropriately.
In my experience of working with Kasturba Gandhi Bal Vikas Kendra (which is a government institution spread across all States of India with the purpose to educate girl children belonging to the socially and backward strata of the society) where I teach children to manage emotions from a very young age including impulse control, I have understood that one way of doing so is by asking them to conceptualize a situation even before it has happened. For e.g.: in case a stranger offers a lift on a secluded highway road where you are stranded, what would you do? This prepares them for a situation which they may never even be in, however this becomes the key, as I have found that many girls freeze during an attack of this nature, whereas in such situations its important that they assert themselves by saying a resounding no and also be prepared to tackle the situation in case they ever have to face it. I also feel that such skills should be taught at a younger age in schools so that they can be applied in colleges and even later on in life. This will ensure prevention and also bring about mutual respect for the personal space of one another.
After your winning Miss India in the year 1979, you were successful in both the film and TV industry, what was the difference (if any) in treatment of actors / staff in both Industries? Did you ever feel that female actors / staff were treated differently? If yes, has the treatment changed in any manner over the years?
Well very honestly, during my time and speaking from an entirely personal perspective, women were treated as commodities and although everybody is not the same, there were some unscrupulous characters during my short span of film industry who have propositioned me inappropriately, and I was lucky enough to say no and assert myself, however I am not sure whether every girl is able to do the same. The trend I noticed was that people from higher or authoritative positions e.g.: few producers would engage in such behavior and always thought they could engage and get away with it as they were in powerful decision making positions, wherein propositioning a girl to sleep with him in order to acquire a role was quite common, wherein a lot of girls in their desperation for getting work due to their financial and other problems at home gave in and were left with no alternative. This is a sad reality. Around 20 to 30 years back, during my time, TV industry had theatre base and had started to evolve, and there I did not face any problem. I was treated as an equal by all my colleagues during my time in TV when I was doing the serial “Yeh jo hai zindagi”.
Currently as I am not really active in either of the industries I do not know how it is. But during my interaction with people who were at a lower positions then (such as makeup men, assistant directors and other DOP staff) who have now attained a higher position are very responsible and have not taken a cue regarding inappropriate and sexist behaviour from their higher-ups which is refreshing to see and definitely gives a ray of hope for the generations to come.
“Support staff also gets harassed and its not gender specific, and sexual harassment is majorly a function of abuse of power not just from the perspective of it being industry specific, but a commoner raping a fully draped village women is abusing what he thinks as power that he possesses of being a man and of a superior gender.”
With various celebrities such as Swara Bhaskar, Tisca Chopra, Kangana Ranaut and many others talking about sexual harassment more openly now, do you think sexual harassment in the industry is common, not just of celebrities but also of support staff?
Yes support staff also gets harassed and its not gender specific, and sexual harassment is majorly a function of abuse of power not just from the perspective of it being industry specific, but a commoner raping a fully draped village women is abusing what he thinks as power that he possesses of being a man and of a superior gender.
Do you think there is awareness in the industry about the Law on Sexual Harassment at Workplace?
No I don’t think there is much awareness about the law on sexual harassment, and the implications of engaging in such behavior which is evident given the various recent news we hear day in and day out.
What kind of contracts do celebrities have to enter into with the producer? Is there anything that restricts them from reaching out to a court?
Not that I am aware of.
Why do you think celebrities and other staff members don’t report?
Firstly, girls who themselves voluntarily agree to sexual advances for work are part of the act and therefore find it difficult to report it against a person with whom they are themselves engaging in such acts. Another difficulty is that they will have to come back, eventually, to the same person for work and for them sleeping with the harasser becomes a small price to pay. Others who have been propositioned are scared of the possible outcome that an influential person like that may have on her career, losing out work in the future, being typecast in the industry and being treated like a “paraya” (stranger) in the industry.
Are you aware of the presence of an internal committee to handle complaints of sexual harassment at any production house?
I am not aware of this one too.
“Others who have been propositioned are scared of the possible outcome that an influential person like that may have on her career, losing out work in the future, being typecast in the industry and being treated like a “paraya” (stranger) in the industry.”
Since you have a remarkable experience in teaching underprivileged girl children from the lowest strata of society, do you think there have been any changes for the better in giving education opportunities to girl children and do you see a discrimination free future for working individuals?
Yes I do see the good future as the government is working towards it although I am not part of any government and there are many NGOS and good people working towards the upliftment. Some initiatives according to me worth highlighting are Kasturba Gandhi Bal Vikas Kendra (KGBVs) where only till 8th standard after which the girls studying there were married off, now they are planning to have classes till 12th grade, apart from which various initiatives by the government in providing cycles to the girl children enabling them to travel to schools and also opening more schools near their homes etc. to name a few.
In my personal experience of teaching life skills at the grass root level of various schools and NGOS for the underprivileged, which helped in inculcating the idea of diversity and inclusive behavior across genders as the life skills were taught to both the genders in the schools, wherein basic things like similar activities such as stitching and carpentry were taught to both the genders. According to me the idea of inclusiveness if provided at the elementary level will certainly bring about a discrimination free environment in the long term and for working individuals.
On this Women’s Day would you want to give any message to the working individuals of our country?
I would just like to quote a line from the poem from my favourite poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz “Bol ke lab azaad hai tere”.