Life's Like That

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Women at work

There is really no nice way of saying this so I am just going to get to the point. Someone I know works in a office which is, to put it mildly,a terrible place. Not only are women employees subjected to unfair treatment, they are also subjected to a number of disgusting jokes, inappropriate discussions and even worse. Sometime back,this girl, A,was forced to sit in on a discussion between her immediate boss and his boss on how they do not like to read a book if it does not contain a healthy amount of sex. Both men elaborated on their literary tastes and described how much sex and what kind of sex is the most fun to read . She left the meeting at that point saying she had to go home to her son. Her boss was unhappy about this and the next day lectured her about how she needs to stay late and work late if she does not want to commit "career suicide". But hold on, the worst is yet to come.

A couple of days back, A had to stay late and went to meet the head of the organization (this is a small Indian company) for some work. In his cabin. There, the head of the organization (HOTO)laughingly opened a mail that he had received from his friend, even though A clearly said she did not want to see it. The mail contained pornographic images. The HOTO seemed to think it was a good joke and absolutely cool to show the contents of the mail with a female employee, late in the evening when she was alone in his cabin with him. I suppose this man thinks there is absolutely inappropriate or perverted in this situation. Or maybe he is unaware of the term sexual harassment. Im trying hard to give him the benefit of the doubt but I think he is a sick pervert and needs to be slapped with a lawsuit and slapped in person. Hard.

Which brings me to my point. A did nothing in both the situations I 've mentioned here. She walked away feeling disgusted and violated and angry with herself for not reacting. When we discussed it and I asked her why the hell she didnt raise a hue and cry about it, she said:
A) These are very senior people in the organization. People who own the business and people who report directly to them. Who is she going to complain to?
B) Even if she did go to the rather ineffective HR department, what were they going to do about it?
C) She has no idea how effective it would be for her to go to the police / womens cell.

How many of us have been in similar situations and chosen to stay quiet or leave the company rather than raise a hue and cry about it? I know I have. Several times. Because its not easy to take people to court in India. We dont have the resources or the time or the energy to get into long drawn legal battles. Its much easier to keep quiet about it and leave the organization. Im not sure many of us even know the process of filing a case with the womens cell...if such a thing exists. And even if one did, I'm not very sure of the outcome. Readers Digest recently did a feature on sexual harassment in India, and used the case study of a girl in the police force who was being harassed. She lodged an official complaint about it and tried to ensure that the guilty got punished. As a result, she was transferred from one god forsaken place to another, and eventually not promoted. The guilty, high ranking officials in the police force got away with a small period of suspension from services. She was victimised at every stage till she finally quit the force. Seems to me that the moral of the story if that you are going to have to quit anyways, complaining about the issue or trying to ensure you get justice is just going to prolong the process and make it extremely traumatic for you.

Multinational firms in India have policies against sexual harassment, which I'm told, are taken pretty seriously. Unfortunately, not everyone has the opportunity of working for a multinational organization. Some people, like A, work for smaller lesser known Indian firms where policies and processes are not clearly defined. Where the organization heads are powerful and waging a war against them is seemingly impossible. What do these women do? There is no effective legal method of dealing with this issue. Or is there? I don't know. Which is a bloody shame. I am pissed off with this situation with A. I have been telling her to take up the issue with the HOTO...mail him saying it was not acceptable or speak to him directly. Then again I wonder, am I saying this so easily and with so much conviction because it happened to A and not me? A case of easier said than done? Given the way the organization is I'm not surprised she feels helpless. In her place would I be able to overcome my helplessness and address the issue? What would you do? What do you suggest that A should do? And is there any effective legal steps she can take to make that asshole pay for what he did ?

13 Comments:

  • Think A should pay some goons and get the asshole castrated....
    Seriously this category of men never learn and get away most of the time, so its really time that something is done.

    Also, girls now need to be taught not to take this shit anymore. We usually try to pretend that hey-it-didnt-happen-to-me, and leave it at that.

    Well-written piece!

    By Anonymous Annapoorna, at 2:23 AM  

  • I completely sympathize and I agree with you when you say its easier said than done. Its true that your able to push her to take action bcos it's her not you.

    However, sometimes confrontation works unexpectedly well because they dont expect you to retaliate. A slightly senior person once told me 'Oh I knew you would wear a skirt today. I love it when you wear a skirt.' with distinctly unpleasant winks. I told him, deadpan, 'If you ever speak like that again I will report you for sexual harassment.' and he trembled like a leaf.

    I know its different here because this guy is the head, but he might still be discomfited if she approached the matter bluntly.

    By Blogger GM, at 5:47 AM  

  • Well said gm. Ron, i suggest A does the same what gm did. Like you mentioned in your blog, it is unclear as to what is the legal procedure involved in case someone complains. But one needs to nip it in the bud itself with a bold but controlled outburst. Believe me, that would leave the ass trembling like a leaf. And if that doesn't work, then girl power! Do a google search and there would be 100s of NGOs in the city who would be more than happy to storm into the office and blacken faces. But that is when A decides to quit her job.

    By Anonymous bijoyyy.., at 2:10 AM  

  • its really pathetic that men in senior positions do such disgusting things.. and the more one keeps quiet, the more they get encouraged. tell her to talk to the HR n ask them bluntly wat the sexual harassment laws are in the company...

    i wd say agression would help but then again-- as ron said easier said than done... maybe if the pervert does this wth other women in the company-- they can together tackle him or report him to higher authorities...

    By Blogger Marina, at 10:20 PM  

  • This person should definitely register her protest in some way, even if she knows that it's going to be ineffectual. That way, this bastard may at least think once before doing something like this with someone else.

    It's like Delhi buses, you know your creating a ruckus is not going to stop the bastard next time, but it might give him a little pause.

    By Anonymous Shrabonti, at 10:55 PM  

  • i agree that these things must be nipped in the bud. confrontation early on is the best. at least the a**-holes will tread carefully. also i think many of these thrive on the fact that the average woman does not retaliate.

    in situations with senior ppl, when i have to voice my protest i bring in a tinge of humour but nevertheless put the point across. that seems to work in some cases

    By Blogger Veena, at 4:09 AM  

  • Tell the moron that his behaviour makes her uncomfortable. Take it from there.

    J.A.P.

    By Blogger J. Alfred Prufrock, at 1:34 AM  

  • hey...this is sick..well personally I have never come across such a experience...ubt if i do i am not the types to sit quiet...dunno if thats the right thing to do in this situation...but I;d rather give that ass a piece of my mind and walk out of that company!

    By Blogger Ekta, at 6:57 PM  

  • Unfortunately, complaining against senior people in the organisation -particularly on sexual harrassment grounds is not easy in any country! I think Marina and Veena make some good points - particularly if he behaving like this with other women in the organisation as well.. However, like you said - easier said than done..

    By Blogger Sumona, at 8:58 AM  

  • Here is what she could do:

    1. Write an email to the perpetrators clearly stating that she is uncomfortable with such behaviour and would appreciate it if it did not happen again.

    2. Be prepared for a backlash -- note how they react and instances of repeated misbehaviour or discrimination of any sort.

    3. Contact a good lawyer (Alternative Law Forum and Lawyer's Collective both do work on such cases for minimal fees) and be aware of the options.

    4. If necessary, serve a legal notice. This does not cost much and at the very least, would scare them.

    But all of this can be done if she is prepared to take the fight to its conclusion if necessary.

    As a background, I fought sexual harassment at the workplace two years back. It was a multinational. I demanded paid leave until the matter was settled. Finally, the guy was transferred.

    By Anonymous Anindita Sengupta, at 9:42 PM  

  • This is what the law says: http://wcdhry.gov.in/Womenharrassment_F.htm

    An excerpt:

    4. Criminal Proceedings:

    Where such conduct amounts to a specific offence under the Indian Penal Code or under any other law, the employer shall initiate appropriate action in accordance with law by making a complaint with the appropriate authority.

    In particular, it should ensure that victims, or witnesses are not victimized or discriminated against while dealing with complaints of sexual harassment. The victims of sexual harassment should have the option to seek transfer of the perpetrator or their own transfer.

    5. Disciplinary Action:

    Where such conduct amounts to mis-conduct in employment as defined by the relevant service rules, appropriate disciplinary action should be initiated by the employer in accordance with those rules.

    6. Complaint Mechanism:

    Whether or not such conduct constitutes an offence under law or a breach of the service rules, an appropriate complaint mechanism should be created in the employer’s organization for redress of the complaint made by the victim. Such complaint mechanism should ensure time bound treatment of complaints.

    She can demand that a Complaints Committee be set up. But because the key criteria is "unwelcome", I advised the written record of discomfort. Their rejoinder otherwise could be that they did not realise it was "unwelcome" since she did not say anything.

    By Anonymous Anindita, at 9:50 PM  

  • Also, would you be willing to cross-post this on Ultra Violet (http://youngfeminists.wordpress.com)?

    There are many feminist readers there who may have inputs to give. Write to me at anu.sengupta@gmail.com if you want to. I am editor of the site.

    By Anonymous Anindita Sengupta, at 9:57 PM  

  • Guys, thanks so much for all your comments and suggestions. I have not been checking my blog or I would have responded earlier,sorry about that.

    I have forwarded all your comments to my friend.

    Anindita I have also given her your email id, in case she would like to get in touch with you.

    By Blogger Ron, at 10:37 PM  

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