By Sonam Mittal
Is there a rise in the number of sexual harassment cases in the workplace? Nope. We’ve always had these instances and experiences; it’s just that more women refuse to carry on with this bullshit anymore.
Before I delve into a rant about how our society has turned boys into entitled brats, let’s take a step back and understand what sexual harassment in the workplace means. Our first thought is usually of a ridiculously creepy old man forcing himself on a young helpless employee. While this may be true for cases like TERI’s RK Pachauri, not all cases are similar.
Most forms of abuse involve subtle expressions and acts that are physical, online and sometimes verbal in nature. Largely unreported, it includes acts like touching your back, shoulder or knees, staring at your chest instead of your face when talking to you, because they probably missed basic anatomy classes in school and forgot where a human face is. Calling you constantly on the pretext of work, stalking you, sourcing information from many of the Indian movies where the woman ultimately gives in and falls in love with his persistence and perseverance, singing songs while you walk by, “Sheila Ki Jawani, Munni Badnaam Hui” and the likes. Perhaps we need to give them audition passes for the next season of Indian Idol.
Well, the list may go on, but one critical aspect is that all these forms are illegal under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013. It is also illegal for any company or organisation having more than 10 employees to not have a sexual harassment committee, whose sole job is to investigate cases of sexual harassment in the workplace and list appropriate actions for the employer.
What if you face harassment outside the workplace? As per the law, a workplace is not just the four walls of a physical office space, but any ‘place of work’. An out-of-office meeting, online conversations as a freelancer, ‘casual’ meeting in a cafe, or even an interview in a company where you are not employed yet—you’re entitled for protection against sexual harassment under the Act.
So, before you join any workplace, ask them if they have a committee. It’s your employer’s duty to make available the names of the chairperson and committee members.
What to do if you face harassment?
1. Speak up and say no or convey that you’re uncomfortable. This helps in establishing a clear line of misconduct.
2. Collect evidence. Record. Tell your girlfriends. Try and avoid being alone with the harasser.
3. Do not fall for the HR or managers when they tell you that it’s the first offence and that they’d be ‘speaking’ to the employee concerned.
4. Head straight for the committee if you can. Send in a written complaint. Speaking from my personal experience of facing sexual harassment at Greenpeace India, any organisation will be deep trouble if they ignore a written complaint.
5. Do not accept any verbal comments from the Committee, or either the HR or managers. If they refuse to give in a written statement, mail them their own words and ask for a confirmation.
6. Your colleagues would try and shame you or accuse you of slander. Don’t care about that. Their ill-informed comments arising from the deep confines of their self-righteous cocoon does not change your reality and lived experiences.
7. Stand up and confront your colleagues if they are talking ill of any co-worker.
8. Consider taking up counselling or therapy. It helps.
9. Always, and I mean it, always believe that it was never your fault.