Women allege sexual harassment at All India Radio’s Dharamshala, Obra, Kurukshetra stations
by- Rituparna Chatterjee
Jyoti Pathania, 45, was in the All India Radio’s dubbing room in Dharamsala on 20 August 2016. She was on day duty, waiting for a message regarding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mann Ki Baat to come in from Delhi, when the lights suddenly went off. The control switch for the lights was outside the room, but by the dim glow of the computer screens, Pathania says she saw her boss and programme head Suresh Kumar, had entered the room.
Kumar asked her if the power was off. She said yes. Pathania said she wasn’t prepared for what happened next: As she continued to wait for instructions from Delhi, her body turned away from Kumar, he tilted her head back from behind, and kissed her. Before Pathania could respond, Kumar left the room.
“I was stunned, I couldn’t understand what was happening. I had to keep doing my work. When he left, the lights came on. I continued sitting in the room. I recorded the (incoming) message as it was my duty,” Pathania told Firstpost over the phone. She said she couldn’t even go to the washroom for fear of running into Kumar. When her replacement came in at 4 PM, a woman colleague, Pathania said she broke down in tears and told her about the incident.
“Kumar asked me what happened as if he had no knowledge of what he had done. I couldn’t tell him anything at that point,” she said. Pathania said there was a reason for her reticence: in 2014, she had lodged a police complaint against a former boss, accusing him of misbehaving with her. On pushing him away in self defence, Pathania said her boss called the police and accused her of assault. The police took down the complaints of both parties, following which she approached the Himachal Pradesh State Commission for Women. Pathania said she faced intense emotional trauma at that time and after advice from both the commission and her family — and especially an apology from the accused — she decided to close the case. The man, meanwhile, was transferred as AD programming of AIR Shimla.
That experience, Pathania said, made her wary in Kumar’s case — she “wanted to first get safely home” before she confronted him. She also said she feared a previous record would not only prejudice the company against her but also result in a repeat of the intimidation she felt during the process of her complaint.
Pathania filed a complaint with the Internal Complaints Committee (now known as the IC). She also filed an FIR against Kumar on 29 August 2016. She said an IC enquiry report in February 2017 — a copy of which Firstpost has reviewed — found no merit in her case due to lack of evidence. It has been over two years since the incident and the casual announcer said she has not found work with Dharamshala AIR again. She runs a small boutique in the town and said it has been an uphill battle to get work.
As the Indian #MeToo movement gathers steam, and influential names are outed by women fed up with sluggish due process, the sexist work culture at offices that has enabled predators to operate with impunity, has continuously come up for review.
The Times of India reported that nine women employees of AIR from Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh have lost their jobs after complaining of sexual harassment against the station’s assistant director (programming) Ratnakar Bharti. However, similar stories from women in other centres — Kurukshetra, Dharamshala and Obra — prove that the problem is far more widespread. Firstpost spoke to three women who narrated accounts of sexual misconduct and lack of reparation — even after going through the process of filing complaints with the IC, and in some cases, despite registering police complaints.
In Pathania’s case, the ICC, in its final report, reprimanded both Kumar and Pathania for calls made at odd hours and asked why she did not raise an alarm when the incident inside the dubbing room happened. On being contacted, Kumar said the allegations against him were “completely false”.
“She has lodged a court case under Section 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) against me. It’s completely false. She has a problematic nature and had lodged a similar case against a programme head but later she compromised. She was upset because she was not being allotted duty. After the incident she claims happened, I myself approached the IC telling them that she had said she’ll commit suicide if she wasn’t given work. She wanted to call a meeting of all casual announcers and wanted a public apology. Why should I say sorry? I had done nothing wrong. I did go into the room, but I have not touched her,” he said. Pathania denied that she had ever threatened suicide, though a mention of it is in the ICC report.
On being contacted, Santosh Rishi, who was a member of the ICC at that time said that she would not be able to comment on the case. “Our job was to maintain confidentiality, go through all the evidence, ensure that no injustice was done and pass it on to the directorate,” she said.
Ruma Guleria, an advocate and an AIR casual announcer of Dharamsala at that time, was tasked to appear on behalf of the AIR National Union of Casual Announcers/Comperer to look at the evidence. “I wasn’t there when the incident happened. I heard of it the next day and when I asked for the CCTV footage, they refused. Video footage of around 20 to 25 minutes was found deleted. As far as I remember there were no cameras in the dubbing room. But there was one at the entrance,” she said. She said she found footage between approximately 3:15 and 3:35 pm — the time during which Pathania claimed the incident occurred — was missing.
A senior radio jockey with AIR’s FM Gold channel in Delhi said, “Prasar Bharti had given an submission before the Delhi HC that they have installed CCTV cameras in AIR Delhi studios in 2013. Why did they not install these in AIR’s different stations across the country? Instances of sexual harassment can take place in any station.”
On being asked why the CCTV footage was missing, Garinder Thakur, who is the programme head of AIR Dharamshala, said: “There was a reason given at that time by the station head, an authentic, technical reason. Also, the officer named was transferred… he isn’t working here anymore. The committee took a decision and closed the case. We have nothing to do with any court cases going on. Whosoever is responsible will not be spared and government machinery will decide that.”
At AIR Obra in Uttar Pradesh, casual announcer Shanti Verma, 43, said she faced sexual harassment repeatedly during her tenure.
Verma said in 2010, the duty officer during evening transmission, one Sri Krishna, asked her for a kiss. When she avoided responding, he later entered the room and put on a CD. “I didn’t know what the CD was about. He fast forwarded to a portion and I was stunned to see that it was a blue film. He even tried to place his hand on my thigh,” Verma told Firstpost over the phone. She lodged an internal complaint, following which Sri Krishna was transferred. “He would message me constantly; say ‘I miss you’.”
As per Verma’s account, the Obra station seemed to have had severe lapses in the basic protocols that keep women safe. She said during the same year, a librarian, Suresh Chandra Nirala, showed her a nude magazine following which she stopped going to the library. She had mentioned this too in her complaint to AIR, a copy of which Firstpost has seen.
Earlier, she said her husband was witness to the fact that officials of the station were watching a blue film in the control room. When he protested, he was thrown out by the guard, Verma said.
In March 2016, she was on duty during the 9.30-10.30 hour programme when a guard standing nearby made Verma acutely uncomfortable by staring at her. When she expressed her discomfort, Verma said the official present at that time, a Subhash Mishra, dismissed her concerns and told her the guard had “every right to be there”.
Following a heated exchange of words, Verma said the guard assaulted her. She also says Mishra pulled her arm, leading to her dress being torn. She dialed the 1090 women’s helpline number from the office itself. The next day she lodged a formal complaint with AIR, following which she filed an FIR. She also accused the current station head GP Nirala of making an obscene comment about her. “He commented that my breasts have started to bloom,” Verma said.
On being contacted, GP Nirala, the current station head of Obra AIR, acknowledged the 2016 incident and said Mishra was transferred to Jammu and Kashmir following it.
“I was away on leave when the incident took place. Had I been there, I assure you it would not have happened. I tried several times so that an amicable compromise is reached,” Nirala told Firstpost over the phone. He said he had no knowledge of any incident involving Sri Krishna or Suresh Chandra Nirala since it was before his tenure.
“She’s (Verma) is a very good announcer. Ask her how much I favoured her. I have gone to her house also a few times to persuade her to settle the matter amicably. I have never made any obscene comment towards her,” he said.
When asked if he was aware that officials have been accused of watching pornographic films and drinking at the station, Nirala said he wasn’t aware of any such thing. “I haven’t seen this, and I don’t drink,” he said.
In Kurukshetra, an internal committee found no merit in the complaint of one Tammana Mahendra, 29, a Baalsabha casual compere of AIR, who said remarks made by a former programme executive of that station made her uncomfortable.
In her complaint dated 25 August 2015, Mahendra referred to an incident from 2014; her younger brother had been hospitalised, he was in a coma, and Mahendra says she was under severe mental stress. She met senior AIR official Shivendra Srivastava at the Kurukshetra station, to see if she could get regular assignments. Srivastava asked her to do OB duty; specifically, a story on eve-teasing.
“Srivastava asked me if I knew what eve-teasing was. I told him that every woman knew what the term meant, having experienced some form of it in their lifetime. He then asked if I knew what rape was. He went on to explain in great detail why rapes happen, the mindset of parents who register boys and girls in separate schools. I told him the subject was making me uncomfortable, and my topic was ‘eve-teasing’ anyway,” Mahendra told Firstpost.
She said Srivastava went to also state that rapes occur with less frequency as compared to India “since men and women were accustomed to seeing each other’s private parts”. Mahendra reiterated how uncomfortable she was in the course of this exchange. She explained that she was in no state of mind to lodge a complaint, due to her brother’s ill-health. “Also since he (Srivastava) was the main official, who would I complain to? So when he was transferred, I complained to the station head,” she said. Firstpost has seen a copy of the complaint.
On being contacted, Srivastava said he was saddened by the allegation and paying the price for trying to raise awareness about a subject at the heart of women’s safety. “She is just like my daughter, I have led a spotless life and career. Her friend was also there when this happened. All I wanted was to do a show since at that time a lot of cases of molestations were happening in Kurukshetra and I wanted to raise awareness in public interest,” he said. Srivastava said he was the programme head at that time. “She is a very good girl, and I am a conscientious, sensitive and sensible man. My life has been spotless and this will haunt me forever. I’m not ashamed of anything. She didn’t even tell me if she was uncomfortable, she should have told me. Many months later she filed the complaint.”
The committee that looked into the matter, observed that there “are some small issues in the office due to that ideologies do not match among the casual announcers and officials which affects the proper functioning of the office [sic]. The ICC advised the complainant to report such incidents within three months of an incident or immediately after an incident and observed that she had reported this issue after eight months.”
Mahendra said another incident of workplace harassment left her shaken. She accused programme head Ajit Gill, named in her complaint, of stopping her duty allotment. She said one of her programmes was deleted. When she asked Gill about it, Mahendra says he shouted at her and threatened to stop her duty. Gill — Mahendra says — threw a duty register at her after scratching her name off it, and told her: “Aise hi main tumhare pet pe laat maar sakta hoon (I can take away your livelihood just like this),” she said.
Srivastava said both Gill and he were transferred in 2015; Gill to Hamirpur and Srivastava to Kathua.
In a letter to the CEO of Prasar Bharti, Shabnam Khanam, the general secretary of the AIR National Union of Casual Announcers/Comperer, said she wanted to highlight the plight of her “female colleagues working in different stations of All India Radio across the country”.
Khanum told Firstpost at least 15 women casual announcers and presenters from different stations of AIR, have lost their jobs after complaining of sexual harassment by officials.
“They (AIR) protect their officers and transfer them,” Khanam said. “Even in the Shahdol case, why was he transferred, and not sacked or suspended?”
Firstpost has also reached out to F Sheheryar, DG, AIR, ex-officio member, Prasar Bharati Board, for a comment. This report will be updated when he responds.
Network 18, of which Firstpost is a part, has received complaints of sexual harassment as well. The complaints which are within the purview of the workplace have been forwarded to our PoSH committee for appropriate action.