“She got overtures from someone on the top right from the first week of joining. She ignored, looked the other way. Frustrated she discussed it with someone just below the perpetrator.
He advised that it was normal – “Ignore the more serious demands, comply with those which are harmless”. Weeks turned into months which turned to a year and more. Her defiance to give in was responded with administrative sanctions – unreasonable work tasks, insulting slander even at the most minor lapses and show cause notices at every corner.
The myth of ‘administrative aloofness’ was moulded to look no less than a severe penal offence. They sought an apology. She refused”
But she would like to apologize now. Apologize for being Her. Apologize for not giving in to their demands of slavery, bondage and self-immolation.This is the story of almost every woman who refuses to bow down.
Our generation has seen ‘Me too’, Tarun Tejpal’s real life ‘Tehelka’ and the humiliating case of Justice A.K Ganguly. But harassment at work-place continues to be a stark reality. While these campaigns have encouraged many women to speak against oppression, forgetting the baggage of taboo and social judgement, yet those in positions of power and influence continue to act with impunity. Perhaps, they feel, “I can get away, because most stories of women speaking out are from the metros”, or because they simply feel that “this particular prey is way too weak”
Work place harassment is not something that happens in far away places. It is also prevalent in Assam and not only in the domain of politics, cinema or business but in academia as well. From time to time, certain ‘lists’ bearing names of people facing such harassment often make their way to the public domain and they are thereafter hushed up swiftly. Just a couple of months ago, names of a few higher ups from a reputable Government College also came to the fore.
This story is based on the experiences of a woman whose experience with workplace harassment provides a distinct insight into the added vulnerability that workingwomen face in private enterprises in places like Guwahati, where the private player often seems to be in an even closer nexus to the political elite and at the same time in-house institutions of redressal are weak and partisan.
As such, the predatory demon fed by social conjectures easily becomes a fearless Frankenstein, immune to criticism and justice alike. Because justice cannot be delivered, at least within the confines of the organization where the harassment is meted out to the victim. Because, while nothing equivalent to the GSCASH even exists, the odd Grievance Addressable Forum and Sexual Harassment Cells are often managed by those who are closely linked with the predatory demons at the top, refusing to deliver their duties point blank. And outside of the organization, the victim remains in constant fear of societal bias and judgement. Therefore, barring few women who dare to come out in the open, for most cases are hushed by organizations and its collective force is used to malign the complainant.
The plight of the vulnerable are further aggravated because the primary components of the organization – Faculty members and students have no stake in the system and are systematically disempowered from standing collectively against such practices. The silence of the first group is further ensured by the compulsion of not losing their petty financial sustenance.
What it does is this. The predatory demon extracts the price of someone’s refusal through the lackeys placed along the entire chain of command – from the rude office secretary, to the unreasonable examination branch to the respective departmental heads and retired advisors. It becomes a lonely day at work always.
Choosing to refuse and deciding not to apologize for the countless pretexts of administrative lapses finally brought the world down for the girl in this story. A meeting was organized at the behest of the predatory demon but was attended by his favorite lieutenants. A senior lady in administration pronounced ‘defiance of authority’ as a crime, especially in a private institution. The lady shamelessly held high the ‘virtues’ of complacency, docility and slavery, straight away dismissing the claims of anyone who ‘dares’ to defy. The Professor who advised “complying with harmless demands” bragged about the 45 years of his service life and how he could not tolerate any form of disobedience. An extreme sense of misogyny and hatred against young female colleagues capable of voicing an independent opinion, could be deduced from his tone. How could the girl do it? Because there was one vital element missing from the meeting and their commentary – Her chance to present a defense.
The sad fact is that we are living in an age where we hold placards of women empowerment, and yet those who pose to be champions of academic excellence, especially in their own cocoons, are the ones who are paralyzed by bigotry, narrow-mindedness and patriarchy. This is aided more strongly by the fact that there are certain women who are at the very vanguard of the movement against real empowerment and independence of women and play out their parts as the stewards of the rotting system.
The Me-too movement shook Bollywood, Media and Politics alike. The same cannot be said about Academia, though the harassment levels cannot be undermined here too. There is a serious need for women to speak up against harassment of all sorts, in Academia, like in any other arena, and in Assam and other parts of the North East, as anywhere else in India and the world. Work-place harassment should not and cannot continue. I am #Me Twenty Billion and Twenty ‘Too’.
What is your number?
(Pics: From different sources through Internet)