MUMBAI: It’s been a year of shame, but also hope. Littered with cases of sexual harassment at the workplace, 2013 is about to wrap up on a dark note. What’s heartening though, is the measured courage displayed by the young women involved in all cases, including a law graduate who blogged about a retired SC judge, who harassed her in a hotel room in 2012. The road ahead isn’t going to be easy for any of them, say three other women who dared to lodge cases against their harassers at work. But a landmark order in one of their favour, after a gruelling 11-year-fight, says, the only way out is to speak up.
My office was dirtied with excreta
Doctor, Bangalore, 50
Action taken against accused: Dismissed
Complainant‘s status: Suspended in 2012; fighting for reinstatement
I didn’t even realize when the harassment started. I was on a year-long contract with the medical centre of an elite management institute. My reporting officer, the Chief Administration Officer (CAO) of the institute, called me to his cabin “to discuss something”. I entered, sat down and waited. He pretended to be busy on his computer and didn’t speak, although he kept ogling at me.
This became a pattern. Sometimes, it would take a bizarre turn. Once, he sat with a teacup held against one eye while he looked at me from the other.
Each time I was summoned to his cabin, my colleagues would snigger. I would refuse his offers to step out for a coffee, but he’d try and keep me back after work. My husband asked me to ignore him and get on with my job because I was the sole earning member. My husband had quit the Army after 20 years of service, and I had a seven-year-old son.
The CAO began interfering with my work by not clearing files. He got others to coerce me into being ‘nice’ to him. “He should own you,” my colleagues told me. Some women said it was just Mills & Boon flirting. I was disgusted. I’d weep for hours at home.
Within months of joining, I complained to the Dean of Administration, who told me to be strong.
At an offsite, the CAO saw to it that I travelled in his car, but I decided to take my son along. That infuriated him, and the humiliation intensified. That same year, I requested the Director to allow me to report to someone else, failing which I’d take police action. He promised to speak to the CAO. But he had somehow convinced the Director that he was not at fault. These three men, all of whom were my seniors, persuaded colleagues and students into writing mails to testify that I was missing from the medical centre during working hours. My employee card wouldn’t register a swipe. Once, my office steps were dirtied with human excreta.
In 2009, I took my complaint to the Internal Complaints Committee, which constituted an investigating team according to SC guidelines in the 1997 Vishakha case.
In 2010, after I completed a year, I was put on a two-year probation. In 2012, I was told my case would be evaluated by the new Dean. He extended my probation by two months. And suddenly, I was handed a termination letter. Six months later, the committee gave in its recommendation – that the CAO be suspended. While I didn’t receive a copy, he did.
Vimochana, a women’s NGO, protested against my termination, following which I received anonymous threat calls. Nothing came of the FIR I filed, except that the CAO applied for anticipatory bail. Following a public outcry, he was suspended. He fought in court but was finally dismissed by the institute in May 2013.
Through this three-year ordeal, my family’s health and peace have been sacrificed. But I continue to fight for reinstatement. – As told to Jayanthi Madhukar
Action taken against accused: None
Complainant’s status: Suspended after filing complaint; out of job since
In 2002, a month into my job as a senior reporter with The Statesman in Kolkata, my news coordinator began to stalk me. Sometimes, he’d paw me in front of colleagues. I thought it best to cope by staying away, but soon I realized that hardly any article I was filing was being published. If something did make it to the paper, it was because he’d be on leave that day.
I decided to approach the managing editor, who strangely, seemed to know what was going on. “He (molester) has strong feelings for you, which is why he is doing this,” I was told. Love knows no age, he said, and advised me to reach an understanding with him.
A month after this September 2002 meeting, I received a termination letter. There was still a month for my probation to end, and the management didn’t give me any reason. Not one female colleague supported me. Two men who spoke out were also sacked. People I knew thought it best for me to drop the issue, but something within me said I had to see this to its logical end. The firm didn’t have a harassment cell.
The first NGO I approached, ‘tested’ me by asking to speak to my husband. They said, “This deters most complainants”. Later, they backed out saying it was pointless taking on a big media house. Every lawyer turned me away saying there was no precedent.