In a horrific incident in Sindhanur town of Raichur district in Karnataka, an employee was caught on camera physically assaulting a fellow woman colleague for coming late. The incident happened last Saturday in the City Municipal Corporation where the man, Sharanappa is a contractual employee, while the woman named Nasreen, is a permanent one.
In the camera clip, the man is seen kicking Nasreen who looks visibly scared and tries to avoid his blows. According to The Indian Express report, she was observing a Ramadan fast at the time of the incident. The office was relatively empty as the other employees had an off day, and only Nasreen and Sharanappa were expected to turn up for some pending work. According to the employees, they were unaware of the incident till Nasreen filed a complaint with the police. The man was arrested and a case registered against him. Shockingly, the police claim that this is not the first time that Sharanappa was accused of assaulting a colleague.
Cases of workplace harassment, particularly against women are very common in India. According to this report, the Institute of Applied Manpower Research (IAMR), an “autonomous institution” under India’s Planning Commission states “if women want to work they have to tolerate harassment in the workplace or withdraw from the workforce.” This article by First Post, specifically talks about sexual harassment as often being dismissed as workers trying to create trouble. According to a survey conducted by the Indian Bar Association of 2017, 70% women do not report sexual harassment in the workplace.
this is not the first time that Sharanappa has been accused of assaulting a colleague.
Despite the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act of 2013, cases of harassment and specifically sexual harassment are still very prevalent. In fact, the Hindustan Times reports that, according to the National Crime Records Bureau data, the number of cases of sexual harassment at workplace (from 57 to 119), between the years 2014 and 2015 had doubled.
There was also a 51% rise in such cases in places related to the workplace. While the 2013 Act demands the setting up of an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) in every public and private organisation with more than or equal to 10 employees, 36% of Indian companies and 25% MNCs had not set it up even as late as 2015. Of the once who had, 50% admitted to having an untrained panel.
These statistics clearly show how flawed the redressal system is, and also makes clear the reason for so many workplace crimes. Despite having codified laws, the non-cooperative attitude of companies and organisations have allowed these crimes to happen, of which the above news is an example.
The claim of the police that this isn’t the first time that Sharanappa was accused of assaulting a fellow colleague is especially concerning as it implies that such crimes exist in the knowledge of people but are either not reported due to career vulnerability, or are hushed as something ‘normal’ or ‘common’. In this case, it seems more of a latter issue as the culprit was only a temporary employee. Further, the victim is doubly marginalised due to her identity as a Muslim woman – the attack is a evidence of not only misogyny but also religious bigotry.
In the past, there have been many instances in the news about workplace harassment and all of them reveal the callous attitude of organisations, and sometimes even their favour towards hiding these instances to save company reputation.
70% women do not report sexual harassment in the workplace.
In 2015, a researcher accused climate scientist Rajendra Pachauri of workplace harassment at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in Delhi. The accused was forced to quit as chairman following the “defaming” news. However, the attitude of the organisation was revealed later when the researcher quit her job a few months after the incident. In her resignation letter, she wrote, “Your organisation has treated me in the worst possible manner. TERI failed to uphold my interests as an employee, let alone protecting them”. She added “You also created a hostile environment for me which has only escalated and showed no signs of subsiding whatsoever.”
Such incidents have been reported for some other known and respected organisations as well. When the CEO of TVF, Arunabh Kumar was accused of workplace harassment by an anonymous Facebook post, a number of women finding strength came forward and revealed that they had suffered similarly while working with him. The sudden outbreak of such complaints clearly show how the company and its CEO had effectively made sure that no complaint had ever been reported before. The company had in fact, instead of investigating these complaints, said that they will “leave no stone unturned to find the author of the article and bring them to severe justice for making such false allegations”.
Following this incident, there was also an FIR filed against the co-founder of ScoopWhoop Suparn Pandey for sexually harassing and name-calling an employee. While the company kept reiterating that they take such complaints very seriously, the victim alleged that the other two founders Sattvik Mishra and Sriparna Tikekar had ignored her complaints, and she was in fact humiliated by the management.
The attitude of organisations that seek to savour their reputation even at the expense of the well-being of their employees is suggestive of the debilitating work culture in India. The codification of laws is important, but only when the laws are adhered to not just on paper, but in practice. Furthermore, the ICCs are often accused of being mere puppets in the hands of the company superiors which makes their presence fundamentally non-existent. The problem lies in the very fact that the concept of gender equality in the workplace is not effectively understood by organisations, which makes the implementation of laws a huge problem.
Featured Image Credit: NDTV