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Archives for : Violence against Women

The Asia Bibi Case In Pakistan Should Serve As A Warning For Us In India

 

– Brinda Karat  

Novenber 10, 2018

Recent developments in Pakistan on the Asia Bibi case should serve as a warning for us in India. Although in entirely different circumstances, the relevance for us in India of the Pakistani case is that it was triggered by blatant defiance and opposition to a landmark Supreme Court judgement by zealots operating in the guise of defending religion and religious sentiment.

The leader of the TLP (Tehreek -i-Labback), leading the violent protests, said: “They want our country to become secular.” For these extremist forces across the border, secularism is the worst that could happen to Pakistan.

Here in India, with a secular constitution, we should be conscious of the implications of hate speeches against the principle of secularism by powerful people.

We also see in India open defiance and threats by top leaders of the ruling party against the Supreme Court when judgements such as in the Sabarimala temple case are not to their liking.

 

In Pakistan, extremist fanatic forces protested against the Supreme Court judgement acquitting Asia Bibi of charges of blasphemy. They called for the killing of the judges, used hate speech and foul language, and organised violent protests throughout the country, paralyzing Pakistan for three whole days.

 Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address to the nation was welcomed by progressive citizens. He said “it is the duty of the central government to implement the top court’s order” and warned protesters of stern action if they tried to confront the state.

 

But far from any action, within three days of the protests, his government capitulated, surrendered before extremist forces and signed a questionable five-point agreement with the TLP.

 

The government assured that it would not challenge any review of the Supreme Court judgement and that it would start the legal process to put Asia Bibi on the “Exit Control List”, which would prevent her from leaving the country in spite of the court ruling.

 

Commentators have pointed out that earlier, as an opposition party, the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-i-insaaf) had supported many of the extremist positions and actions of the TLP and even now, many in the ruling party continue those links.

 But at least some protested – such as Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, who said “appeasement to avoid bloodshed sends a dangerous message to non-state players and undermines the very principle of democratic protest.”

 

Asia Bibi, an agricultural worker most probably of Dalit origin, a Christian and a 40-year-old mother of two girls, was accused of blasphemy under Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code in June 2009.

 

 This section reads ‘whoever… defiles the sacred name of the Holy prophet.. shall be punished with death or life imprisonment..” Critics of this law in Pakistan have pointed out the wording leaves it open to easy misuse – for example “defiles including by innuendo, imputation, insinuation”.

 Asia was charged before a sessions court and sentenced to death by a trial court a year later. The punishment was confirmed by the Lahore High Court in 2014. She appealed to the Supreme Court.

 

Her case invited nationwide attention with extremist religious organisations demanding that the death sentence be implemented.

The extent of hatred generated by their campaign was reflected in the brutal murder of then Punjab Governor Salman Taseer by his security guard in January 2011, because he had defended Asia and opposed the blasphemy law. Asia had been incarcerated for eight years, much of it on death row in solitary confinement.

 

It was in this charged background that the Supreme Court pronounced its judgement on October 31. It was given by a three-member bench of Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and his fellow judges Asif Sayed Khan Khosa and Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel.

 

The judgement, which is worth reading, extensively quotes from the Quran and also upholds the basic principal – presumed innocent until proven guilty “irrespective of caste, creed and colour.” The judges criticized a “mob” deciding whether a person is guilty or not.

 

 The judgement held that there is no credible evidence, the prosecution’s case against Asia is full of contradictions and the seven witnesses have made conflicting statements. The court basically upheld the statement of innocence made by Asia Bibi when she was first charged.

 

She had shared a most moving account of what had happened that day. She was working in a field along with 25 to 30 women. Two sisters who were her fellow workers wanted water.

 She offered to get them water when the two women insulted her. Asia said: “They refused saying I am Christian, they will not accept water from me. Over this the quarrel started and some (angry) words were exchanged between me and the two.”

 

She also argued: “My forefathers have lived in this village before the creation of Pakistan. There was never any complaint like this…I’m ignorant of any Islamic thought… how can I use such clumsy and derogatory words?”

 

The judges noted that none of the other women present during the fight, other than the two sisters, testified against her. While all three judges concurred on her acquittal, Justice Khosa made additional comments. “Insulting the appellants (Asia’s) religion by her Muslim co-workers was no less blasphemous.. she was more sinned against than sinning,” he said.

 

With the shameful stand taken by the government, Asia’s future is uncertain. Her lawyer has already had to leave the country because of threats and has been given asylum in the Netherlands. Asia has been released from a jail in Multan and has been taken to an undisclosed place in Islamabad.

 

 The government has announced she is “being given security.” Legally, even though she is at liberty to leave Pakistan if she so wishes, as is her family, the hurdles are obvious.

 

Democratic voices, women’s movements and citizens groups in Pakistan have strongly protested the government’s attitude, and continue to defend the Supreme Court judgement at great risk to their personal security.

We salute them. We too must raise our voices in solidarity with Asia Bibi to demand that the Pakistan government ensure her safety and security and if she so wants, ensure her safe exit from the country.

 

https://www.ndtv.com/opinion/the-asia-bibi-case-in-pakistan-should-serve-as-a-warning-for-us-in-india-1945150

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Facebook in the dock for coaxing teenage girls to befriend middle-aged men

Facebook file photo

Facebook is encouraging grooming by offering teenage girls middle-aged men as ‘friend suggestions’

Facebook is encouraging grooming by offering teenage girls middle-aged men as ‘friend suggestions’, the media reported.

Teenage girls, as young as 13-year-olds, who join the social network are given up to 300 suggestions for who they can add as friends, some of which include middle-aged men who are topless in their profile photos, The Telegraph reported late on Saturday, November 10.

Facebook has said that was not a typical experience for teenagers for signing up for the service and that it has safeguards built into its recommendation system.

Following the findings, UK-based charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has called for friend recommendations to be suspended for children on the social networking giant’s platform.

‘Groomers are seeking to infiltrate children’s friendship groups on social networks, often with the intention to move children to live streaming or encrypted sites where it is easier for them to commit sexual abuse,” Andy Burrows, NSPCC Associate Head of Child Safety Online, was quoted as saying.

“Social media algorithms risk making it easier for groomers to find and contact children and ‘friend of friend’ or ‘new follower’ recommendations can add legitimacy to their requests, which is why we are calling for these features to be blocked for children.

“For too long social networks have failed to make their platforms safe for children, and that is why the Home Secretary must commit to strong and effective regulation to finally ensure that children’s safety is non-negotiable,” she said.

In October, Facebook had removed 8.7 million user images of child nudity with the help of previously undisclosed machine learning software that automatically flagged such photos during the last quarter

According to Facebook, the company has safeguards to protect children. However, the campaigners warn that the networking giant must do more to stop groomers who use the site to become friendly with children.

“Grooming is incredibly serious, and we have teams specifically focused on keeping children safe, informed by extensive research and outside experts,” said a spokesman for Facebook, the Daily Mail reported on Saturday, November 10.

“We use artificial intelligence to proactively identify cases of inappropriate interactions with minors and we refer potential abuse to law enforcement.

“We limit how children can be found in search, we remind them to only accept friend requests from people they know and we caution them before making public posts.”

In October, Facebook had removed 8.7 million user images of child nudity with the help of previously undisclosed machine learning software that automatically flagged such photos during the last quarter.

The company has said that it is also considering rolling out systems for spotting child nudity and grooming to Instagram.

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‘I Tried Killing Myself Twice Due To My Abusive Husband. I Am Speaking Out So That No One Else Does

by –

Mumbai: For 33 years, Kalpana Mishra (name changed) asked herself what she had done wrong–why was it that her husband, whom she loved, beat her mercilessly? Why did he have multiple affairs, and why did none of his friends or family think it was wrong? How could a smart, bright, and educated woman like her suffer in silence?

Mishra tried astrology, past-life regressions and read books but found no answers. In 33 years of married life, she landed up in the hospital several times for injuries, and she even tried taking her life twice. The last time she tried, she fell into a coma for three days. It was then that something snapped in her, and she filed a case of domestic violence against her husband.

Across India, almost one in three (33.3%) married women, aged 15-49 years, experienced physical, emotional or sexual spousal violence according to National Family Health Survey (2015-16), IndiaSpend reported in October 2018.

Further, Indian women committed suicide at twice the global rate–the sixth highest rate of suicide in the world in 2016 (15 per 100,000). Domestic violence has a direct relation with the idea of suicide in women across the world, studies show. Arranged marriage, early marriage, young motherhood, low status, domestic violence and the lack of economic independence may be responsible for the high rate of suicide in women in India, IndiaSpend reported in October 2018.

Mishra wrote to IndiaSpend after reading that story and wanted to share her trauma, “I do not want anyone else to suffer as I did,” she said.

Today, Mishra is separated from her husband, and is a trained counsellor helping other women in similar situations. She has restarted her career after completing a diploma in development management and works for a non-profit.

Here are some excerpts from the telephonic interview:

How was your childhood?

I was born in a small town in Uttar Pradesh. We lived in a joint family. My father, who was an engineer, worked in a very well-known company, and took care of his whole family–seven brothers and two sisters. We were a well-respected but highly patriarchal family. All my life, I saw my mother working day and night and getting abused by his family. My father was good to everyone but was dominating and aggressive with my mother. Seeing her plight, I had decided that I would never get married.

I have three siblings–an older brother and sister, and a younger brother. My father was educated, but he still spoke only about making my brothers engineers. He never celebrated my accomplishments. I was good at studies and sports, and I was selected to play basketball and kabaddi at the national level when I was in school. I stood first in my district in the grade X exam, and got featured in the newspaper, but no one cared. I learnt to study and work hard without making a fuss.

My brother’s friend had got an extra application form in a reputed engineering college and I filled it. To my surprise I got selected. My father didn’t allow me to join for a month because he thought I will lose interest and forget about it. Finally he had to relent and I joined the course. I did well in my studies and was selected for the masters course. But I fell in love and decided to get married. Our marriage was sanctioned by our families.

How did your life change after your marriage?

After marriage, I moved to Delhi. Physical and mental abuse started soon after. I have never heard gaalis (abuses) in my maternal household but here I was verbally abused and beaten up regularly. Initially, he said that he loved me and had only hit me under the influence of alcohol.

I was 22 years old, my parents had died and my sister lived abroad so I had no one to speak to. I was stuck in a situation I didn’t know how I could get out of. I kept believing he would change.

My husband blamed everything on me–his failure at business, his losses. He played the victim, I played along. Soon his shame became my shame.

Three years after our marriage, I gave birth to our son. By then the girl in me who was confident, a natural public speaker, and a singer had gone quiet. My in-laws had asked me to quit my job: “Acche ghar ki bahuen kaam nahi karti” (Daughter-in-laws of good households don’t work). Still, I prepared for the civil services exam without telling anyone but I could not give the exam.

Meanwhile, I tried everything to understand why my marriage wasn’t working well. I sought answers everywhere–books, religion, philosophy. I asked, I was a good wife, daughter-in-law and a mother; then why was this happening to me? I never realised that it wasn’t my fault.

He was addicted to porn, and a womaniser. The domestic helps told me that he had tried to molest them, and I tried to intervene but my mother-in-law said that they were lying. I had no support while my husband kept up his beating and I sunk into depression.

The first time I tried to commit suicide, I drank pesticide because my husband had hit me badly the day before. My in-laws rushed me to the hospital, but later asked me to beg forgiveness from my husband.

The next time I was admitted to the hospital was because he kicked me when I was pregnant and I had a miscarriage.

Later, when we moved to Mumbai, my husband closed the door on my hand and I had a fracture. My husband then had an affair with a younger colleague in office. Slowly he started insisting on bringing her home. When I protested, he started tormenting me. He now wanted to kick me out of his house.

He called me names, showed me obscene videos and asked me to die. He even took me to a psychiatrist and said I was crazy. One day, I swallowed sleeping pills to end it all. I was rushed to the hospital and I was in coma for three days.  My son stood looking at me, wondering if I will live or die.

After I came back, I said enough is enough and filed a case of domestic violence against him.  He then filed for divorce.

Did you get divorced?

No, I didn’t want to give him a divorce because I did not want to let him off the hook after 33 years of a bad marriage. I have studied the law, spoken to lawyers, got fleeced by them and realised that the justice system is tilted towards men. A woman who is a homemaker, has no money, no financial backing and no security. Till date, I have not received a penny from him.

I have also filed a petition in support of a Supreme Court petition asking for restrictions on pornographic websites. Since the last five years, I have read and researched extensively on these issues and written letters to everyone from prominent personalities to ministers to the highest offices in India.

How did your children react to all of this?

Earlier, the violence was restricted to the bedroom and I tried to keep the children away from it. But later, they told me that they stood outside the door and cried.

My son has stopped talking to me since the court cases. My daughter meanwhile has been my support all these years. She was the one who told me that I had to do something. Her father has cut her off financially.

When and how did you move out and gain financial independence?

I did a post graduate diploma in development management from a Mumbai-based institute. After 30 years of staying at home, I had to adjust to a new age classroom where I was expected to submit assignments on emails and make powerpoint presentations. I had to learn fast, and despite being the oldest student in the classroom, I, at 56 years, stood second in the whole class. I felt validated and felt I can do something with my life.

Then I got a job in a non-profit working on maternal health and I am in-charge of coordinating with the central government to implement the programme in different states. Thanks to my efforts, the programme has been successfully initiated in many states.

Also, I trained as a counsellor, and support other women who come to me through word-of-mouth. I have realised three out of four women face abuse at home. Most never speak up because they have no support or backing.

Why are you telling your story?

I do not want anyone else to suffer as I did. I also want to raise awareness about issues of homemakers who do not have the privileges of a working women–no measurement of or payment for work, no paid leave and no internal complaints committee for sexual harassment. After the breakdown of a marriage, it takes years to fight for maintenance which is why women don’t speak up.

Also, education alone can’t solve the problem. I was a district topper, an engineer and yet I suffered in silence for three decades because of the patriarchal values I was raised with.

I don’t condemn women for keeping quiet or bearing it. I see my story being repeated in the stories of those women. I want women to speak out about what is happening to them. I want to stir society into action.

I want to quote Maya Angelou here, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women

https://www.indiaspend.com/i-tried-killing-myself-twice-due-to-my-abusive-husband-i-am-speaking-out-so-that-no-one-else-does/

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U.P -Woman Killed For Objecting To Co-Passenger Smoking In Train #WTFnews

On Friday night, Chinat Devi, was travelling with her family in the general bogey of Punjab-Bihar Jallianwala Express when she objected to a co-passenger, identified as Sonu Yadav, smoking.

Pregnant Woman Killed For Objecting To Co-Passenger Smoking In Train

The accused was arrested and the body was sent for post-mortem. (Representational)

SHAHJAHANPUR, UTTAR PRADESH: 

HIGHLIGHTS

  1. After an argument, the co-passenger attacked and strangled the women
  2. The woman and her family were on their way to Bihar
  3. The train was stopped at UP and the woman was rushed to a hospital

25-Yr-Old Abused & Kicked Her Several Times, Arrested

Shahjahanpur:

A 45-yearold woman was allegedly beaten to death by an inebriated man inside the general coach of Jallianwala Bagh Express on Saturday after she objected to his smoking. The woman, Chinta Devi, was allegedly kicked several times and pushed by 25-yearold Sonu Yadav, who also hurled abuses at her, even as scores of passengers looked on. She died of internal injuries following which the accused was booked under IPC’s section 304 (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and sent to jail.

Government Railway Police SHO Piyush Dikshit told TOI, “The accused, a resident of Rajapatti village in Azamgarh district of UP, has been arrested and sent to jail.”

The woman was travelling from Punjab to Bihar to celebrate Chhath festival when she got into an argument with Yadav somewhere between Bareilly and Shahjahanpur junctions. She was accompanied by two of her sons, both in their twenties, who tried to rush to their mother’s aid during the scuffle but were unable to navigate their way to her as the coach was packed.

The victim, a resident of Rohtas district in Bihar, worked in a private factory in Jalandhar. On Friday evening, she boarded the train with her sons Rahul, Ranjeet and daughter-in-law Babita. While the two men occupied some space near the door of the crowded compartment, Chinta Devi and Babita were seated inside. Yadav, their copassenger, lit several cigarettes during the night despite objections from passengers. In the early hours of Saturday, when he tried to smoke another cigarette, Chinta Devi asked him to stop smoking.

Angered at this, Yadav allegedly pushed her and then kicked her several times, making her lose consciousness. Some passengers then caught hold of Yadav and thrashed him. One of the sons pulled the chain and informed a guard about the incident.

The train was stopped at Shahjahanpur where the accused was taken into custody and the victim was taken to hospital where doctors declared her dead.

Doctors said that the woman had broken rib, bones and ruptured heart.

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Jharkhand – Woman Gang-Raped By Ex-Husband, Friends Stick Inserted In Private Parts #Vaw

 

According to police, the woman had gone to watch a play at a theatre on Kali puja on Wednesday night. Her former husband and two of his associates forcibly took her to a field in the village under Narayanpur police station area

A woman died after she was allegedly raped by three men, including her former husband, and a stick was inserted in her private parts in Jamtara district of Jharkhand, police said Thursday.

Sub-Divisional Police Officer B N Singh said the woman’s ex-husband has been arrested a search is on to arrest the two others. According to police, the woman had gone to watch a play at a theatre on Kali puja on Wednesday night. Her former husband and two of his associates forcibly took her to a field in the village under Narayanpur police station area.

 

After raping her, they inserted a stick in her private parts, police said. On hearing the woman’s cries for help the next morning, villagers took her to a hospital in Narayanpur town from where she was referred to Jamtara Sadar Hospital, where doctors declared her brought dead. Locals told police that she had accused her former husband and the other two men of raping her when they had found her in the field.

https://www.mid-day.com/articles/woman-gang-raped-by-ex-husband-friends-stick-inserted-in-private-parts-in-jharkhand/

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PUCL statement in solidarity with #MeToo

As national conscience acknowledges the long-standing problem of hostile workspaces for women, it is time to closely examine the legislative framework in place to protect a women’s fundamental right to work with dignity. It has been over a decade since the Supreme Court guidelines in the landmark judgment Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan and others, established the responsibility of employers and persons of authority to delineate a complaints and redressal mechanism to ensure accurate and timely reporting of incidents of sexual harassment at the workplace. After 16 years, Parliament passed the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 “the Act”. While the Act has to some extent clarified the definition and broadened the ambit of what a workplace constitutes, we must address the systemic failure of legal remedies and social support systems in addressing complex issues that arise from incidents of sexual misconduct and harassment of women, and the gross non-implementation of the provisions of the Act by the state. In January 2018, Supreme Court in a Public Interest Litigation filed before it, was constrained to call on multiple State Governments to implement the provisions of the Act, including the setting up of a Local Complaints Committee (LCC) in each district.

We acknowledge that the Law as of today does not provide adequate safeguards to protect a survivor of sexual harassment against the social and professional sanctions imposed on her once she decides to report an incident of sexual harassment. The Law further fails in its objective to ensure that a survivor of sexual harassment is protected against intimidation in the form of defamation cases that are strategically used to disempower and deter a survivor who takes the step to report a case of sexual harassment. While the Vishaka Judgement did not contemplate a limitation period within which a complaint ought to have been filed, the Act reflects the patriarchal notions of justice in mandating that a complaint ought to be filed within 3 months of the incident or at the latest within 6 months of the incident, if the aggrieved women can justify the delay in the filing of the complaint. This restriction does not cater to the interests of the women as Parliament has failed to acknowledge the lasting psychological impact that a traumatic incident of sexual harassment can have on a survivor of sexual harassment. This is more so important in the light of the number of cases that go unreported and the number of offenders who face no consequences for their misconduct. It is our responsibility as members of a healthy society to strive to create an equal, gender empowering society and community, which harbours a safe environment for all members to live a life of dignity and to work with dignity.

It is in this interest that we urge all organisations with more than 10 members to constitute an Internal Complaints (IC) Committee and urge organisations with lesser than 10 members to inform their employees of the Local Complaint Committee constituted / to be constituted in each District.

The recent social-media movement or the ‘#Metoo campaign’ in an Indian context effectively began in the year 2017 and has since opened up issues of sexual harassment to the public gaze. This movement has made it accessible for women to speak publicly about incidents of sexual harassment. The first phase called out numerous academicians and professors for having abused their positions of power for many years. The current phase of the movement has led to several media personalities, journalists and persons in the NGO and development sector being investigated for misconduct and sexual harassment.

We acknowledge that this is a significant movement as social media has facilitated and empowered women to speak openly  (even anonymously) on social platforms. The movement is significant for it urges us as a society to take stock of how effective the law and intended ‘due process’ is in addressing issues of women’s safety and health at the workplace. It is clear that many women have chosen to exercise their freedom of expression to inform society, peers, and colleagues of the prevalent culture of sexual misconduct and abuse of power by persons in a position of authority or otherwise. These women have chosen to speak despite the social and professional consequences faced by them and their families.

PUCL extends its support to all persons who have taken the step to come out with their personal and truthful accounts of sexual harassment. We acknowledge that to speak out and share these experiences is hard and that the backlash faced by these persons sometimes leads to further harassment.

We are committed to protecting the civil rights and liberties of all individuals and have zero tolerance towards sexual misconduct of any kind. We are also committed to finding solutions to social problems faced by the community.

We extend our support and would like to intimate any persons who are keen on pursuing any remedies that PUCL if approached, would guide and support to our best ability.

Mihir Desai,

Convenor, Ad-Hoc Committee,

People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Maharashtra

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10 years- #MeToo Journey of a Journalist for Justice and cost of ‘ due process’

Rina Mukherji to win her case of illegal termination arising out of a complaint of sexual harassment at The Statesman.

 

As women growing up in India, nearly all of us are familiar with street sexual harassment. Catcalls, lewd comments, shoving, groping and pushing are the norm as one grows up into adolescence, teen and adult. However, moving into the workplace was a special thrill, since it meant that the world viewed you with a special respect. Whether you worked for a news agency, magazine, or newspaper, people looked on you as an opinion-maker.

In spite of the comparatively slim pay-packet that the job ensured (at least in the mid-to-late 1980s), when I entered the profession as a post-graduate following journalism school, this was what appealed. The exhilaration continued even after I moved from Mumbai to Kolkata after my marriage. Journalism was what I loved and hence I continued being a journalist even after having completed a doctorate on a UGC fellowship. However, the arrival of my daughter and the need to be with her put the brakes on my career for a while.

When I returned to work after a few years, it meant taking up whatever came my way. Through some people in the profession, I learnt that The Statesman was looking out for senior reporters. So, one fine morning, I left my application at the reception of Statesman House and left the rest to chance. I was told it would take a month for the newspaper to take a decision. It was a Thursday.

On Saturday, I received a call. They wanted me to come over for an interview. My resume had impressed them and I was given the job. It did mean losing my seniority in the profession and putting up with a far lower salary than I deserved. Yet, I did not mind. I needed to get back to work and get back into mainstream journalism.

I joined The Statesman in June 2002. I was to report to the chief reporter and, through him, to the news coordinator—and my eventual harasser—Ishan Joshi. The first few weeks were fine, with everyone being welcoming and friendly. The news coordinator was, in fact, even more so. My ideas and stories were highly appreciated. I was also given the environment and public health beat to cover, which made me happier.

About a month into my job, I noticed that Ishan Joshi would dash into me in the corridors and whenever he did so, feel me up. Initially, I took it to be accidental. But then I realised the huge corridors of the British-style edifice of the Kolkata office of The Statesman did not call for it. The corridors were just too wide. I started keeping a distance but the behaviour persisted. It was in the newsroom, the editorial meetings, everywhere. It was common for him to stalk me in the office premises and otherwise find ways to touch me, often inappropriately.

As the months progressed, the harassment got worse. It was sometime during the height of the Kolkata monsoon that Joshi decided to invite the news bureau to his home for a party. That was when, taking advantage of a moment when I was alone, he forcibly molested me. The incident so shocked me that I was left speechless and numb. From then on, I started to avoid him.

But this only made the harassment worse. My best stories started getting killed. Everything was spiked at the news coordinator’s level, with nothing reaching the desk.

When I complained to the managing editor Ravindra Kumar, he suggested that I “compromise”. Irked by my complaint, Joshi now called on me to resign, on grounds of “not fitting the bill”. By then, I had decided to fight it out, and so I refused to resign. On Dussehra day, October 2002, I was terminated by The Statesman; this was a little before my probation was scheduled to get over.

Although happy to escape the daily harassment, the entire ordeal began revisiting me in the weeks that followed, leaving me an emotional wreck. This was when I learnt of Sanhita, a non-governmental organisation that worked on cases of sexual harassment at the workplace. After dilly-dallying for over a month, Sanhita excused itself from the case, citing constraints involved when dealing with “a big media house”.

However, Sanhita helped me get in touch with Ananya Chatterjee and Rajashri Dasgupta of the newly-formed Network of Women in Media in India (NWMI) who took up my case withThe Statesman which, in spite of being one of the oldest media houses in India, had not complied with the Vishaka Guidelines of the Supreme Court that had been passed as far back as 1997. Although The Statesman and its managing editor refused to recognise their authority to speak on my behalf to demand an investigation into my complaint, the pressure that the publicity fallout generated did succeed in having The Statesman set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) in early 2003.

Meanwhile, I had approached the West Bengal Commission for Women, with the help of fellow-journalist and friend Partha Pratim Nag. The chairperson, Professor Jasodhara Bagchi, and her colleagues tried their utmost to have The Statesman investigate into my complaint but to no avail. By then, convinced that my issue had no chance of being solved internally, I proceeded to lodge a police complaint, as advised by the Women’s Commission. I also went on to lodge a complaint of illegal termination with the Chief Labour Commissioner.

The Statesman refused to cooperate with both arms of the state. Thus, my case landed up with the Industrial Tribunal.

By then, nearly every person in Kolkata civil society knew about my fight against sexual harassment. I had become an icon for many and ended up addressing the Maitreyee network of women’s organisations, besides some national-level organisations too.  Unfortunately, although there were many who initially pledged support for my cause, few cared to stand by me when the police investigation was underway. In fact, some actively tried to work against me. It was also tough to convince many seasoned lawyers to take up my case since sexual harassment at the workplace was a very new issue. Thankfully,  a social activist from Maitreyee put me through to the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), and Sutapa Chakravarty.

Ms Chakravarty and her lawyers—Shamit Sengupta initially, followed by Debashis Banerjee and Ambalika Roy—helped me through the Industrial Tribunal, the Calcutta High Court and the Patiala House Courts, standing by me all through.

Mine is a classic case of a media house—a part of the fourth estate of the world’s largest democracy—refusing to respect or follow the Supreme Court’s guidelines, even as it wags an accusing finger at a complainant demanding justice against sexual harassment. Until this day, my complaint has not been investigated, and neither has my harasser Ishan Joshi been punished. Instead, even as I battled it out in courts in Kolkata and Delhi, he got promoted to deputy editor at The Statesman, from where he proceeded to adorn the position of editor-in-chief at The Herald in Goa.

As for me, it has been a long wait for justice, wherein I had to keep alive my professional career, trying hard to stay afloat through freelancing for a variety of print and online publications, while balancing my obligations as a homemaker and mother. Attending regular court hearings in Kolkata was tough. Attending court in Delhi to contest criminal defamation meant spending my hard-earned money travelling and staying in another city. My daughter was four years old when I worked at The Statesman. As she grew up, I had to forego my presence by her side during tests and exams, although I have always helped her with nearly all subjects in school. It meant keeping in touch with her on the phone, advising her on how to tackle a tricky math problem, or giving her ideas for her Hindi or English essays.

A decade and a half in courts taught me how to persevere in the face of frustrating delays at every level. The Industrial Tribunal saw me deal with vacant courts for periods ranging from six months to 1.5 years, and the coming and going of four different judges. At Patiala House, the 15 years I spent fighting for justice saw five different judges and four different courts handle my matter, although there were no vacant courts to deal with in Delhi. In both Kolkata and Delhi, the opposing party easily delayed matters on grounds of their lawyer/s being busy, not being ready with the argument, and not feeling well on numerous occasions.

I realised India has the best laws in the world, but tardy implementation prevents justice from coming our way. The Vishaka Guidelines were put in place in 1997.  But The Statesmandid not have an Internal Complaints Committee( ICC) to deal with my case in 2002. Even when it was set up, my complaint was not investigated. Even after the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act came into force in 2013, very few organisations bothered to set up ICCs with trained members in place. Until today, complainants continue to be victimised and thrown out of their jobs, the way I was. Interim relief, if resorted to, can further delay proceedings.

After a decade, the Tribunal ruled in my favour. The verdict was upheld in the Calcutta High Court, albeit with a much-reduced compensation. The Statesman referred it to a division bench, where the case awaits closure. The Patiala House courts in Delhi have acquitted me in my criminal defamation case, but I am yet to return to a full-time job in mainstream media. Winning has vindicated my stand but it all seems so hollow when there is no full-time job or savings to fall back on.

 

Recently, an amendment was introduced to penalise organisations that do not have ICCs in place. One hopes the government will also set up a mechanism for compliance of the SHW Act, and ensure speedy justice through fast-track courts. It will prevent many other careers from getting derailed, the way mine was!

https://www.newslaundry.com/2018/11/03/metoo-my-journey-for-justice-and-the-cost-of-due-process

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Disability rights activist accuses visually impaired man of harassment |#MeToo

Trigger warning: Sexual harassment

I knew I had to write this some time or the other but kept on postponing it because of self-blaming and the shame that I felt to confess about the sexual harassment I faced. I am known for my work on violence against women with disabilities, yet I myself had been sexually harassed and could not do anything about it.

Is it easy to confess this and tell the world the whole story? No, it is extremely difficult to admit something like this. But the fact remains that I, who had fought for changing laws on sexual violence of my country, who stood for so many survivors of rape and molestation, who gave lectures at different places on sexual violence, who organised so many Dharnas against sexual violence, was harassed and could not take any action against it. There are various reasons why I never talked about it. Internalised self-blaming was only one of them. Let me share the details here. Here goes my #MeToo story.

I was invited as a speaker at a national conference by a renowned network that works on disability throughout India, in 2014. I accepted this invitation and took a train to a small town of eastern India. It was towards end of November and quite cold, I remember. I was given a hotel room, warm welcome and I have no issues against anyone of the organisers.

IT WAS I WHO STOOD FOR SO MANY SURVIVORS OF RAPE AND MOLESTATION, IT WAS WHO GAVE LECTURES AT DIFFERENT PLACES ON SEXUAL VIOLENCE.

After I reached the venue, I received the final schedule of the programme and I saw the name of a person very much known to me as the chief guest at the inaugural session. For convenience’s sake, I am using CG the short form of chief guest to describe this person in this narrative. I have met CG for the first time about 18 years ago. He was working as regional head of an international NGO and I was working as a consultant with same organisation.

My work was on Socialization of Women with Disabilities, I did not report to CG at all. But because he was a disabled person, often, during our organisation’s internal meetings, we met and talked. CG, being a visually impaired person, was very active in different kinds of work on disability – be it in judicial activism or services on disabled people. I admired his work, though we were never very friendly with each other. But even after my consultancy ended, we kept in touch – most of our email exchanges were work related. As Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RPD Act of 2016) was being drafted at that point of time, we were part of different discussions and meetings quite often those days.

In the meantime, CG also left that organisation. He was appointed in a very high post by the government of India. Like most disability activists, we were overjoyed. Our fellow activist, who is also disabled himself, is now in such a high government position that can change daily lives of disabled people. When I called him to congratulate, he showed his joy like a child-like manner. He said “Shampa, I will always be like a Dada to you…. Now is the time, we can work together a lot, bring in changes which we wanted to all these days”.

However, his response to my phone calls or mails (all work related) became less and less in number as time passed. I felt this was inevitable, now that he is in powerful position. I was happy to see him as the chief guest there, I thought we can catch up on all the work which was possible to do together. So, I went up to him and said hello to him – he was extremely warm and expressed happiness in meeting me. He also expressed his wish to discuss issues with me and agreed. All these happened in the hall, CG, being a blind person, was holding my hand all this time, and of course I did not mind because it is so natural of a visually impaired person to touch and talk.

I went back to my seat and received a SMS from him asking if we can meet in the evening and have dinner together or I would prefer to talk to him anytime post lunch. I said post lunch suited me – he again send as SMS saying, that his hotel is bit far, a Government one, there was a state car allotted for him, so I can come back to venue of the meeting whenever I want to. I said okay because obviously we could not have talked about work in a conference room with 400 people attending same.

IT WAS SUFFOCATING TO SAY THE LEAST. BUT I DID NOT KNOW HOW TO RUN AWAY AND LEAVE A 100% BLIND MAN ALL ALONE IN A HOTEL ROOM.

So, after lunch was over, he said in front of everyone, “Come Shampa, we will go to the hotel”and I went there in the car allotted for him. He was also given an escort to guide him because of his disability, that person was also in the car. After we reached hotel, he gave leave to his escort, telling him “You can go and have lunch now, come at tea time”. I did not feel uncomfortable even then. For my work, I have to travel a lot, sometimes we visit hotel rooms of fellow activists, and this was not very new to me.

Since this was a hotel room, and CG was not acquainted to the place, I had to take his hand and make him sit on the sofa. I sat in another sofa. We started chatting. Friendly talk. About RPD bill, about my work on homeless disabled people, my research on disabled women. Gossips about the sector. He even mimicked some personalities. We laughed. CG wanted to drink water. I looked around, found the bottle and handed over to him.

While keeping the bottle in the table, his hand touched mine. I did not think it was intentional. But he did not want to let go my hand. I had to use force to move my hand away. But again, making some excuse, he touched my hand. And said “Your fingers are nicely shaped”. By now, I started feeling uneasy and realised what is happening. I said, “What nonsense you are saying”, but that did not bother him. He started patting my palm, and then slowly moved his hands upwards.

It was suffocating to say the least. But I did not know how to run away and leave a 100% blind man all alone in a hotel room. So I told him to call his official escort, he said escort’s number was written in a paper which is in the bedroom of the hotel suite. He told me to take him to bedroom. I refused to do so. Tone of his voice and questions he started asking changed.

He asked me if I drink. I was so upset, I said “No”, just to avoid any offer to drink with him. He asked again, if my husband drinks, if I go to parties with my husband etc. It is not that we never exchanged any personal matter with each other. But connotations of this particular discussion had totally different meaning at that point of time. In the meantime, tea came. So did the escort. Though CG kept on asking me to stay back, I rushed out of the hotel and came back to the venue.

The whole situation was bizarre – I did not know the city at all, so was depending on his car to take me back. And being a visually impaired person, in spite of being the state guest, he was depending on me, until the time of his escort’s return. Being the chief guest, he could have called any one of the organisers when his escort needed lunch break, he obviously did not do same with particular interest in mind. And I was naïve enough to fall in the trap. Yes, trapped, that is the word to describe, how I felt those 2 hours in that hotel suite.

A PERSON, WHOM I HAD KNOWN FOR A LONG TIME, WHOM I CONSIDERED A FELLOW ACTIVIST – HOW DOES ONE COMPLAINT AGAINST HIM?

Trapped, because who would have believed if I told that I was molested by a blind man? I, who is supposed to work on sexual violence and supported so many women in their legal battle? My own body of work and his impairment – both would make the scenario unbelievable. Besides, I did not know whom to complain to. The obligation of my safety during the tour would definitely be on the organisers of the conference. Being an outsider, I did not know if they had a Prevention of Sexual harassment Committee.

I did not feel comfortable at all in talking to the organisers. Like majority of disability groups in India, they are too gender insensitive. And even if I complained, what would I say? CG touched me? Being a blind man, touching was normal for him. How would I explain this was different kind of touch? My being in this sector for so long, also taught me what usual touch of blind men felt like. Come on, I work with them even now. No other blind person has ever made me feel uncomfortable till now. In reality, I was in denial mode that sexual harassment can happen to me.

A person, whom I had known for a long time, whom I considered a fellow activist – how does one complaint against him? He knew very well nature of my work, even then he found the courage to do this to me, shows how getting a powerful position, got over him and he felt he can misbehave with women. We had been in the same room before as well, but not a single time, had I felt he can do this to me. But all this was before he got this powerful position. That sexual abuse is not about sexuality but power and control was once again proved by his behaviour.

He knew about my mental health conditions. Though I do not have a disability certificate under mental illness, I never tried to hide the fact that I suffer from it. I also had a feeling that he was taking advantage of this fact. But no, I go through severe depression but I do not hallucinate. But he would definitely take advantage of my mental illness if I confronted with him later. He remains an expert on disability law, he would know how to harass me more if I wanted to file a case.

I HAVE ASKED SO MANY DISABLED WOMEN TO COME OUT AND SPEAK ABOUT EXPERIENCES OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE, MY OWN SILENCE AT THIS POINT OF TIME WOULD GIVE WRONG SIGNALS.

Unfortunately, my healing process is still not over. Unfortunately, I meet him at big conferences even now. I do not go and greet him anymore. He does not try to talk to me, obviously he is aware of my angst and his mannerisms show he is trying to avoid me. The whole incident still baffles me, makes me cry at night. It still frightens me when I am travelling alone. Because I will never forget how much I cried on my way back home. All alone in the crowded train compartment, when not a single person knew who I was, I broke down and cried throughout my journey.

I did not share this with family or friends that time, because it is extremely difficult to articulate such experiences, because I am known as a ‘strong’ woman. Will my sharing of this story deemed as betrayal to the cause I work for? Revealing such stories may fragment disability movement further, I even feared.

So, why I am writing this now? After 4 years when even memory is getting blurred? Because there are times, when one cannot keep quite. I have asked so many disabled women to come out and speak about experiences of sexual violence, my own silence at this point of time, when so many from other sectors are speaking up, would give wrong signals.

No, I will not name him. Neither do I have capacity (both financially and psychologically) to fight any law suit nor do I intend to punish him. (it is ironical because I spend most of my activist life in changing laws and getting them implemented). But that is how life is. It teaches you lessons that make all your work worthless, even if you are proud of doing same.

There are various reasons for writing this now. I would like many women in the disability sector to open up and talk about the sexual harassment they faced within the sector, after reading this. I would like to have all disability groups to constitute their own sexual harassment committees. I want disability sector to recognise that sexual harassment happens within our community. Am I really asking too much from my movement?

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Extending the Boundaries of #MeToo: Sexual Harassment in the Lives of Marginalised Women

by – Akshaya Vijayalakshmi

Unmitigated and pervasive sexual harassment at the workplace is pushing women out of the workforce and increasing socio-economic inequalities. 

On the first anniversary of the #MeToo movement, India is witnessing a revolution of sorts. As several sexual harassment allegations surface, there is a need to move beyond the digital boundaries of Twitter and share the platform with women who have been historically silenced: the less-educated, poor, rural, lower-caste women who work long hours, under difficult conditions for survival.

A Culture of Normalised Harassment

Few reports capture sexual harassment incidents in the workplace for low-wage workers. For instance, the women who keep our streets clean had to take to the streets for their voices to be finally heard. Their complaint was against contractors, health inspectors and mestris who they alleged were repeatedly abusing them (Suresh 2018). Several news reports highlight the severe abuse these women faced from supervisors at various levels. The matter had to be escalated to involve the Karnataka Social Welfare Department. When the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike finally set up a committee to hear the complaints of both permanent and contract employees, it got five complaints in six months, of which three were considered serious. One of the complaints (filed by 35 women) was against a contractor who “chased, abused and assaulted women,” reported several news outlets (Alva 2017; Balakrishnan 2017). The situation is equally horrific in the garment industry which employs women in large numbers. A study by the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Sisters for Change, documented that 60% of the women faced physical, verbal and sexual abuse in the factories. These industries employ tens of lakhs of women, with factories in Bengaluru alone employing about five lakh workers (Mohan 2017). If we assume that the study was representative of the population, then a quick calculation will show that about three lakh women working in Bengaluru factories have faced abuse of some kind. In addition, tens of thousands might have had to endure severe sexual harassment.

Even within the organised sector, significant portions of working women are contract workers (Kaur and Kaur 2013). We have no reports on the harassment faced by these women who are employed in housekeeping and maintenance, security and secretarial positions in organisations that are not necessarily dominated by female employees. Also, little is known about the harassment faced by women in the unorganised sector (for example, maids). Most of India is employed by the unorganised sector (Express News Service 2015). Essentially, what we are witnessing on Twitter and other online media outlets is just the tip of the iceberg. There are probably tens of thousands of incidents of harassment at the workplace which get no attention.
The normalisation of sexual harassment in the workplace could be one of the reasons why Indian women are leaving the workforce. According to the International Labour Organization, Indian women’s participation in the labour force has decreased from 34% in 1999–00 to 27% in 2011–12 (Verick 2014). Furthermore, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, in the first quarter of 2017, jobs for men increased by 0.9 million, while 2.4 million women left the labour force (Bhandare 2018). Most of the women who are employed belong to two demographics—the less-educated (primary education or less) and college graduates (Kapurthala 2018). Many of these less-educated women tend to be employed in difficult working conditions which also foster sexual abuse. These women work because they are financially compelled. They are working because they have no choice but to earn their daily living. It is, therefore, not surprising that these women begin to leave the workforce when the family incomes start increasing, even by a little. Sexual harassment is thus, increasing inequality between classes, castes, and genders.

Why Do Women Not Complain?

In most cases, women’s complaints have immediate consequences that affect their roti, kapdamakaan and children’s education. In fact, most of the protesting sanitation workers in Bengaluru were mainly demanding that their unpaid salaries be released. Their salaries were put on hold because they had complained against the contractors. Similarly, many of the allegations of sexual harassment have been made against men who are economically better-off, compared to the complainant (Manickam 2018). The threat of termination or denied salaries prevents women from seeking redressal.

Consider the case of 42-year-old Sakina (Mohan 2017), who worked in a garment factory in Bengaluru and had been a tailor for more than half her life. In 2016, she found that the production manager had retained part of her salary. When she protested, Sakina was repeatedly harassed over the phone by the same supervisor who stole her money. When she complained to the owners, it was considered a false complaint. Suddenly, Sakina’s tailored pieces were rejected. She felt isolated in the factory where she had worked for three years. She was eventually fired from her job. When Sakina went to the government authorities to register this unjust treatment, her complaint was dismissed as trivial. She was told, “What ma, all this for some dirty phone calls. It is not like it is rape, no?” Finally, the Karnataka Garment Workers’ Union had to come to intervene. Given the enormous effort that Sakina had to make for her voice to be heard, is it really surprising if women do not come forward to complain about harassment?

Overall, economic vulnerability, lack of job security, stigma, isolation, family pressures are significant reasons why women do not complain about sexual harassment. Despite these pressures, women who do want to come forward and complain, are failed by the ineffective redressal mechanisms. In some instances, women are not even aware of the existence of a legal redressal mechanism (Aravind 2017).

Current Status of the Internal Complaints Committee

If one considers the testimonies on Twitter, it is clear that such safe spaces do not exist in our workplaces. From the case of the sanitation workers taking to the streets in Bengaluru, it is also clear that the authorities have muted women’s voices.
The law requires every organisation with more than 10 employees to have an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). The ICC deals with complaints of harassment at the workplace. The ICC must be led by a woman employee who will be assisted by (a) other employees in the workplace working on gender-related issues, and (b) members of NGOs working on similar matters. Before the implementation of the ICC, women had to go to the police or their supervisor. Naturally, many women chose to remain silent. The gap ICC is filling is evident by the complaint numbers. Five hundred and twenty-five and 601 complaints were registered in the financial years 2016 and 2018 respectively, with Nifty50 companies’ ICC (Somvanshi 2016; Vyas and Sultana 2018). These growing numbers also suggest that ICCs are beginning to have an effect.

The sanitation women workers in Bengaluru had to take to the streets for an all-women ICC to be setup (Alva 2017). In contrast, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has worked to create a safe space for its 40,000 women employees. All the 106 departments at MCGM reportedly have their committees to deal with sexual harassment cases. Further, they draw help from NGOs such as Savitribai Phule Gender Resource Centre to strengthen their redressal mechanisms (Vyas and Sultana 2018).

MCGM might be an exception, as news reports suggest that many public sector undertakings and private firms still do not comply with the act (LiveMint 2018). In addition, civil liberties lawyer Vrinda Grover argues that it is important to get into the details of the numbers on the complaints (for example, complaints by whom and against whom) to build effective structures in the organisation. In particular, Grover wonders whether the women working on the shop floor of garment factories have also been able to assert their voices.

Browsing through EPW, one finds several studies by academics discussing the absence of ICCs or the dismal state of ICCs at various workplaces. For example, Anagha Sarpotdar (2016) in her study found that many firms in Mumbai did not form an ICC or when they did, the organisations did not take women’s complaints seriously. In another study, Bhavila and Beegom (2017) interviewed employers, chairpersons, and members from 15 ICCs in government offices in Kerala. The researchers found that the ICCs were constituted as mandated by the law with both external and internal members. However, women, including the chairperson at times, were afraid of asserting themselves against senior male members. The ICCs did not have much legitimacy in a male-dominated environment. Further, Bhavila and Beegom (2017) found that many complaints were anonymous since the complainant did not trust the ICC members to keep the case confidential. The law requires the case details to be confidential in order to protect the complainant, accused and even the witnesses.

An ICC that is powerless and lacks autonomy is almost as good as non-existent. In Sakina’s case, the factory claims that there was an ICC, but clearly, it was dysfunctional. In fact, 75% of garment factory workers who were surveyed said that the ICC in their factories was not useful (Aravind 2017). In many firms, ICCs are created since the law mandates it. However, employees are not made aware of it. “Why to put ideas in women’s minds?” is the attitude in such cases. Factory owners, academic institutions and businesses are concerned about their reputation if women start making formal complaints. Finding no respite, women under-report abuse or find new jobs to escape abuse. It is not surprising, therefore, to see women taking to Twitter by the numbers because it is unclear to them who at their workplace will hear and investigate their case.

While ICC is for organisations with more than 10 employees, a Local Complaints Committee (LCC) is for organisations with less than 10 employees, unorganised sector workers and complaints against the employer. The LCC is headed by the district officer who then appoints five members to be part of the committee. To locate an LCC, a complainant has to go to the district officer’s or the state women commissioner’s office or call the 181 helpline. These steps reduce the ease of accessibility, and it is highly likely that a woman will not register a complaint until the sexual harassment is severe or repeated. Based on a Right To Information request, Mumbai’s LCCs received just six cases (all resolved) in three years of its existence. For a city with working population in the millions, such a low number raises doubts of the LCCs’ efficacy. The LCCs have the potential to become sources of power for contract and unorganised workers, who are otherwise unrepresented. It is essential that they reach the women workers rather than the other way around.

A Renewed Role for the ICC

The current dysfunctional state of ICCs and LCCs needs to change immediately. We need to provide a platform for every person to be able to share their harassment experience, and for the episode to be investigated in a fair and judicious manner. Importantly, both the complainant and the accused should have a chance to explain their case. Such due process can set a precedent and influence work culture. It can initiate conversations and engage people in a difficult, but constructive discussion. The process is time-consuming but more effective in the long run.

The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI), has put out a note requiring that the ICCs at media houses carefully investigate claims of sexual harassment that have cropped up in recent times. This is a desirable first move. The presence of an autonomous ICC and awareness amongst all employees about its existence is one sign that an organisation takes the safety of its women employees seriously. The need of the hour is to make sure that the private and public organisations follow the law and institute these committees. But, it is more important that the unorganised and contract workers who are part of these big organisations are also knowledgeable about the existence of such a committee.

As the number of contract workers in an organisation grows, it is important that the ICCs do not render them invisible. The ICCs may be burdened at this time, but this moment also presents an opportunity for them to hear the voices of all the workers in their organisations. It is commendable that the NWMI is suggesting that equal rights be extended to freelance and full-time journalists. Similarly, ICCs should take cognisance of contract and unorganised workers’ work conditions and extend similar protections to all. The non-unionised, low-wage worker requires special protections as she is more vulnerable to being fired by the contractor if she raises her voice. The contractor would rather replace a complaining worker than lose his/her contract with the organisation.

Finally, the law may have mandated the composition of ICC to ensure a fair trial, but unless the attitudes of the members of the ICC change, the formal mechanisms will continue to fail the abused. Bhavila and Beegom (2017) found that the ICC members whom they interviewed in Kerala had little idea about the investigation procedures and had patriarchal attitudes. In order to build a safe workplace, there is a need to train the ICC and LCC members to be sensitive to people’s voices and investigate in as fair a manner as possible.

It was Bhanwari Devi’s battle for justice against the people who gang-raped her that got us the legal guidelines to protect women against and prevent sexual harassment at the workplace. There is no time like the present to take those guidelines seriously and implement them in order to build a safe workplace. A supportive and sensitive workplace with robust redressal mechanisms for sexual harassment can help complainants, and prevent cases of abuse in future.

 

Akshaya Vijayalakshmi ([email protected]) is an assistant professor of Marketing at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad.
Acknowledgements: This write-up is part of a larger collaborative effort with Pritha Dev, Aruna Divya, and Vaibhavi Kulkarni to understand sexual harassment faced by low-wage workers. Salonie Hiriyur and Ramya Palavajjhala are helping us immensely on taking the project forward.
https://www.epw.in/engage/article/extending-boundaries-metoo-sexual-harassment-marginalised-women

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India – Working Class Women Share Their #MeToo Stories

A report on the public talk organised by GATWU, Stree Jagruti Samiti, BBMP Guttige Pourakarmikara Sangha and KBNN Workers Federation

#MeToo: Working Class Women Share Their Stories
Image Courtesy: Debanjan Chowdhury

The #MeToo movement may have started recently, but it is not new to India. The fight against sexual harassment began when Bhanwari Devi, a saathin in a village in Rajasthan, was raped for doing her job — stopping child marriage. Every working-class woman, like Bhanwari Devi, has a #MeToo story to share. Job insecurity, low wages — upon which her entire family is dependent, no social security benefits, and added to which are caste and class oppression. This silences women workers from speaking about their experiences of sexual harassment.

The #MeToo movement is not lead by any particular woman. The women participating in it to call out their perpetrators are owning the movement as theirs. This has displayed the exemplary solidarity of women fighting sexual harassment and exposing it for what it is. The movement has also demolished the lies around women when it comes to sexual harassment — that it happened because she was wearing a revealing dress, that she might have seduced him, that her character is questionable, that she asked for it, etc. It has showed us that sexual harassment is shockingly common and universal. It has also broken the myth that a woman loses her and her family’s honour if she is sexually harassed. Women are standing up against their perpetrators against great odds and risks to their personal safety, job security, and mental peace.

Despite the Vishakha Guidelines and the Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Redressal Act of 2013, working class women have been fighting for redressal and justice when it comes to sexual harassment at the workplace. There are areas of workplaces which are diverse, invisible and taut with class, caste and gender prejudices which do not allow the law to penetrate. This is the case with domestic workers, street vendors, pourakarmikas (waste workers), construction workers, and others, where local complaint committees have been formed, but are constituted merely on paper. In such cases, the working-class women have been fighting against sexual harassment through their trade unions.

On the evening of November 03, 2018, the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), along with the BBMP Guttige Pourakarmikara Sangha, Garment and Textile Workers Union, Domestic Workers Rights Union and the KSRTC/BMTC/ NEKRTC/NWKRTC Workers Federation hosted a public programme called “#MeToo: Working Class Women Share” in Bangalore. Several women workers participated in the event and shared how the nature of their work and the work environments make it vulnerable to sexual harassment. The natural outcome of calling out their perpetrators is to lose their jobs instantly, and in most cases without any pay. Rathna, a pourakarmika, while sharing her experience said, “The supervisor in my ward stripped off his pants in public when we asked him for our wages which we weren’t paid for five months”. Tahira, a domestic worker, said that when her employer’s son molested her and she complained, she was instantly removed from her job. Rajeshwari, who works in a garment factory in Hosur stated how the managers in garment factories abuse them. “I was told that I wasn’t fit to work in the factory and that I should stand on the road to earn money. We are also exposed to physical assault due to the structure of garment factories and the way they are built,” she said. Parveen, a mechanic with the BMTC, said that sexual harassment is not just rampant amongst bus commuters, but it is even more so for women bus conductors. “We have to deal with drunk men sometimes. We have thousands of rupees in our bags from ticket collection. If we create a ruckus about the harassment we face and lose the money in the scuffle, then we will have to pay BMTC from our pockets. This is why most women conductors do not talk about sexual harassment,” she said and added that lack of toilets for women bus conductors at bus depots and bus stands also enable sexual harassment.

In the programme, members from the transgender community, sex workers and students also spoke of their experiences of sexual harassment. Sana, a transsexual woman, said, “I was sexually violated when I worked for a media company. I was removed from my job as they feared I would create noise about it. Members of our community cannot complain to the police because they also sexually abuse us. They say that we are meant to be harassed and violated. The #MeToo movement has not addressed concerns of sexual minorities or oppressed caste women.” Madhu Bhushan, an activist, stated that one does not think of sexual harassment for sex workers. Parijatha of the Sthree Jagruti Samiti said that when they complained of several sexual abuse cases related to domestic workers, the officials of the Department of Women and Child Development reacted in an extremely insensitive manner. “They too are a prejudiced lot,” she said.

The All India Progressive Women’s Association plans to prepare a report from the experiences shared at the public programme on November 03, which will be submitted to the Kerala government’s Department of Women and Child Development, Karnataka State Commission for Women, the Internal Complaints Committees of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike and Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation.

(Lekha graduated from Azim Premji University, Bangalore with a Masters in Development, before which, she worked as a sub-editor with The New Indian Express. She is interested in understanding issues related to informal labour and urban commons.)

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