‘Sexual Harassment? It Doesn’t Happen In Our Workplace’

sexual harassment doesn't happen

The #MeToo movement is here to stay. Be it Bollywood, the literary scene or journalism, flames of the movement are spreading far and wide, blackening reputations of several big names in India. One may wonder what took women so long to share their #MeToo stories, considering that rumours of the casting couch in Bollywood have been heard off and on.

It was 1998 when I was in my first newspaper job in Bhubaneswar that I was sent to cover an NGO meeting on sexual harassment at the workplace. It was to be a feature story on the women’s page. A year before, the Supreme Court had laid out the Vishakha guidelines to tackle such issues.

During the course of the meeting, we were made aware as to what constitutes sexual harassment and how we can push for companies to recognise the issue. As per the guidelines, every company was supposed to have an internal complaints committee to deal with complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace.

At the meeting, I was handed a banner detailing what constitutes sexual harassment and told that I should approach my office authorities and request them to pin it up in the newsroom.

So as I started my regular night shift at office, I went up to the desk-in-charge — whom I remember as a thorough gentleman — and showed him the banner.

He looked at me, smiled and said: “This is all very well. But we cannot put this up in the newsroom.”

Till then, the enthusiastic newbie that I was, I had been brimming with confidence and had no doubt whatsoever that I would succeed in putting up the banner at my office. So I was totally taken aback by my senior’s reaction. But that was exactly what the society thought of such issues — that sexual harassment doesn’t happen in “our workplace”

Since then, I have joined several organisations, changed cities and worked in the topmost media houses. Whisper campaigns of so and so boss to stay away from or some hotshot reporter making a go for every “good looking” fresher in office were commonplace.

While it is only now that so many big names are tumbling out in the open, way back in the late-90s, some top editors and journos known to have a glad eye was common knowledge in the fraternity.

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A friend, who had joined a Delhi newspaper as a fresher, was scared of meeting the reputed editor with a stronger reputation for having favourites among young women in the office. Thankfully, my no-nonsense friend didn’t have to deal with any advances and managed to do well career-wise with a string of good crime stories during her stint with the paper.

So yes, the problem has been there for the longest time and it’s high time, women have gathered the strength to come out in large numbers. Let’s hope the movement brings in some real change on the ground level.