Harassed at Work? So What

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February 5, 2016
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February 14, 2016

Harassed at Work? So What

The recent appointment of R.K. Pachauri as Vice President of TERI, despite allegations of sexual harassment, prove that India is not ready to stand up for its professional women

There is a huge disconnect between India and the rest of the world in terms of tackling sexual harassment at the workplace. Last year, R.K. Pachauri was immediately removed as chairman of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, after charges of sexual harassment emerged against him. In India, however, the case has played out differently. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has recently appointed him as the Vice Chairman of the green body despite a sexual harassment complaint against him. Pachauri, who was accused by a junior colleague, was asked to go on leave following the complaint. But he returned in a few months to join right back at the top. His continuance not only made the complainant resign, but the person who investigated the matter, eventually resigned too. Meanwhile, the governing council—that has Naina Lal Kidwai on board, named Ajay Mathur as its director general of Bureau of Energy efficiency. Although they did not comment on the future role of Pachauri. It is being said that his new role was tailor-made for him to keep control of the organisation that he headed for the last three decades.

The complainant who spoke to a newspaper about the developments says this has been like a promotion for him. “I did expect something on these lines to happen but now that it’s coming in officially, it gave me a sick feeling. His (Pachauri’s) new post is a promotion. Pachauri should have been suspended pending the ICC inquiry and asked to find a new job when the ICC gave their verdict but he has clung on, rather comfortably. The organisation created a hostile environment for me and my colleagues were allegedly pressurised to get me to have the case settled out of court. This whole experience took a huge toll on my health too, both physically and mentally,” she told DNA.
By creating a special post for Pachauri, the organisation is making its stand clear on the subject. That it values R.K. Pachauri more than the complainant. That it will not let something as small as sexual harassment get in the way of his professional advancement. In this choice, it scarily echoes the sentiments of political leaders such as Mulayam Singh Yadav who issue pro-rape comments such as “boys will be boys,” and if women can’t deal with it, they should just not enter the work-force.

And this is not the first time it has happened. In the year 2010, Jaspreet was working in an advertising agency as a client servicing executive and had recently been promoted. She was to get married in a couple of months to her long-term boyfriend. Life was going just as she planned when a person from the top management started showing an inappropriate amount of interest in her. It started off innocently. “First it was compliments. Then it was comments about my clothes, eventually it moved to personal remarks about my body and personality,” she says.

Uncomfortable with such inappropriate attention, she decided to confront the person. “He just laughed it off and told me I was over reacting,” she says. “After that I went home. A bit uncomfortable, but naively enough, relieved that it was all over.” But in fact, it wasn’t. Her harasser only became more aggressive as time went by, which eventually forced her to write a written complaint to the HR. “From the moment I filed that complaint, I found myself out of work. From a star performer I was reduced to nothing. Nobody in my team stood up for me and I eventually ended up resigning.” She was repeatedly told that her career was over. She stood her ground and eventually sued the company and the person for discrimination and sexual harassment. “It was a tough decision. But my parents stood by me. I was repeatedly intimidated to take my case back. They broke my car’s windshield. Called my then fiancé’s parents, who could not deal with the controversy. My wedding was called off and eventually I had to move countries because I could not get a job here.” She only comes back to India for her court dates now, and six years on, the case is still dragging. “They want an out of court settlement. But I want my life back,” she says.

In December 2013, a former lab assistant set herself ablaze at the Delhi Secretariat. She was fired from her job at Delhi University after she complained of sexual harassment. Later that year, the editor of a leading national magazine came under fire for allegations of attempted rape. It would have been just another case swept under the carpet had it not been for the colleagues who rallied behind the complainant. The one thing that was highlighted during this case were the double standards that most organisations have when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment.

In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that freedom from sexual harassment was a fundamental right and formed the Vishaka Guidelines—a step by step procedure to be followed in the workplace in case of a complaint. It also stipulated that every workplace should have a committee to deal with such complaints. Almost two decades later, when the media case broke out, it was clear that no such committees existed in most places. In 2013, these guidelines were superseded by the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act.

Though the Supreme Court and international agencies have tried hard to inculcate an egalitarian work environment, women admittedly still have it tough. Most of them choose to keep quiet and move on rather than confront (harassment). “There is a lot at stake. Your career being the most important,” says 29-year-old Shipra Kapoor, a Mumbai based professional. “When it happened to me this year, I didn’t report it. I spoke to my boss and he advised me against it. He told me that, not only would I attract unnecessary attention to myself but I would also ruin my career. He said that nobody would hire a person who had complained about sexual harassment.” Kapoor also says that she was not prepared for the kind of questions that would come her way once the complaint was filed, “I was not ready for my character to be assassinated. I can live with that choice.”

Among all the twenty-two countries covered by the IPSOS – Reuters survey, India recorded highest incidence of sexual harassment. Similarly Center for Transforming India survey revealed that nearly 88 percent of women witnessed some form of workplace sexual harassment during the course of their work. Additionally, the survey found that there were poor awareness levels among female employees on workplace sexual harassment and therefore majority of them continued with their ordeal of suffering due to fear of professional victimisation.

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