As women at some point of our career life we have been exposed to misogyny, sexism, workplace bullying or even harassment by male superiors. Newspaper headlines have become common these days where women become victims of recriminations from their alleged sexual abusers, stating that the woman who claims to be harassed or inappropriately touched is lying to tarnish the image of the abuser.
Sometimes we also hear some of the male counterparts resorting to blame game when they are caught ogling at a woman’s dress. For them a woman is responsible for attracting unnecessary attention but owing up to their guilt seems a far sighted dream.
I am not saying that this is the case with all male employees as there are many good male superiors who give space as well as the right platform for their women colleagues to grow.
The purpose of this article is not to paint our male colleagues or even men folk in general in a negative manner but to educate all working women not to panic in such situations or worst to accept everything mutely. Silence can never be the answer or solution to wrong deeds and there are ways to handle and overcome this situation.
Workplace harassment faced by women and how to deal with it.
Bullying or harassment? Understand the workplace harassment laws in India.
There is a difference between bullying and harassment and the phenomenon is not country specific but universal. Workplace bullying is gender agnostic and can be perpetrated by both male and even a female boss.
It is not incident specific because bullying is persistent which affects the emotional, psychological and mental health of the victim. It can start off with individual bullying and can lead up to serial bullying which can go on for years and can involve inter departmental teams to create a situation where the employee has no other option but to leave the organization.
Other facets involve client bullying, cyber bullying, non-cooperation, name–calling, and harboring deep seated resentment due to various reasons like linguistic and cultural difference or even the victim being more talented and capable than others.
Unfortunately there is no law to address workplace bullying as bullying is very difficult to define and quantify because it rarely crosses the zone of obvious or overt ways such as physical abuses or lewd gestures.
Workplace harassment examples
Workplace harassment definition: Regarding harassment faced by women, the following unwelcome behavior or sexual gesture comes under the definition of sexual harassment as defined by the Supreme Court of India:
- Physical contact and advances
- Sexually colored remarks
- Showing pornography
- Demand or request for sexual favors in lieu of office promotion
- Any other verbal or non verbal conduct that is sexual in nature
- Any rumors at workplace with sexually colored remarks about a working woman
- Spreading rumors about a woman’s sexual relationship with anybody.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013 applies to all regular, ad hoc employees, probationers, apprentices, contract laborers and even individuals engaged on daily wage basis.
The scope of this law not only covers government bodies, private and public sector organizations but also non- governmental organization and even places that an employee needs to visit for official purpose which means transportation provided by the employer for commutation purpose also comes under the ambit of this law.
This law came into effect after the Supreme Court of India, in its landmark judgment in Vishaka and others v. State of Rajasthan (“Vishaka Judgement“) acknowledged sexual harassment at the workplace as a human rights violation. Vishaka , a non- governmental organization, filed a petition when Bhanwari Devi a social worker in Rajasthan was brutally gang raped by some upper caste men when she tried to prevent a child marriage , part of her work profile as she worked in Women’s Development Project Rajasthan , and faced injustice by the trial court when all accused were acquitted.
In spite of a strong law and increased awareness about women rights post 2012 Delhi gang rape case, around 70% women do not report sexual harassment case by their superiors as per a survey conducted by the Indian Bar Association in 2017. A research study conducted by the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in 2015 showed that 36% of Indian companies and 25% of multinational companies do not have an internal complaints committee (ICC) which is mandatory for every private or public organization that has 10 or more employees as per the Sexual Harassment Act, 2013. Even worse the research study found out that even if some of the companies had an internal grievance committee, the ICC members were not legally trained or even sensitive to deal with such issues. Another study conducted by Ernst and Young in 2015 stated that 40% of IT and 50 % of advertisement and media companies did not even know that the law demanded setting up of ICC. To summarize for most organizations, training session on women safety and workplace harassment is just another tick box in HR training checklist.
Why this silence?
Women generally resort to silence because endurance seems a less bitter medicine for them to taste. At the end taking a step would mean not only jeopardizing their relationship with their superior but even could pose a threat to their employment. Being a victim myself, I was not surprised why my zonal head, who was investigating my written complaint against my HR manager, asked me not to discuss this matter with anyone including my family members and indirectly hinted that if I do not comply to his words then I should be prepared to be transferred to some obscure place of India. I had to master my courage to remind him that not only was he willfully sabotaging my fundamental right of speech but also a demotion or reassignment of duties could count as retaliation under the law and that stopped him from threatening me.
Lack of support from colleagues and even women colleagues during legal proceedings is also one of the reasons why women step back from choosing the path of our long and frustrating judicial process. Legal cases become public records and can be available for anyone who is interested to read it which can create more hurdles for future employers to hire them because no one wants to hire someone who sued somebody. It is an irony that sometimes these same women colleagues resort to slut- shaming the victim just to earn some brownie points or be in good books with the management. Last but not the least due to lack of information or even awareness of laws makes it difficult for women to report such cases as they don’t know where to go to report them. Even if she figures out where to report for example in the HR department then this issue becomes the talk of the town which actually should have been dealt in a confidential manner.
How to tackle workplace harassment
I am not an expert in this field but after experiencing this episode, these are the lessons that I learnt and some tips to meander your way with dexterity to rise up bravely for yourself.
- Do not ignore – Silence is not the best defense mechanism in such case as ignoring it with the hope that it will go away will actually escalate the issue. If you don’t want to take the extreme step of recording your complaint then you need to articulate explicitly what you feel in a clear but non – threatening manner. For example if the perpetrator stares at you often then don’t look away but stare back till he backs off or if he stands too close to you in the lift or chair then simply turn around and look him in the eye and say, ‘There is enough space around and I am sure you don’t realize it, but you are crowding me here. Do you mind standing back a little? Thank you.’
Your body language will set the boundaries for his interaction with you and if he still does not understand it then you can either disclose this to a more mature senior who can arrange a face to face meeting with your harasser to diffuse the matter. If things still don’t solve then you need to make a formal complaint.
- Keep records – Start recording everything whether it is CCTV footage, date, time, duration and nature of phone calls, SMS, emails etc. In my case the person concerned was not working in my office but worked in a different city. He being the zonal HR manager obviously had access to my personal bio- data which means access to my age, ethnicity and marital status. This might have given him a good opportunity to become over friendly with me by calling me at ungodly hours just to chat with me. I had recorded all those calls and when I lodged a written complaint against him these proofs came handy for me.
- Do not take back your complaint – Chances are high that the moment you file your complaint immediate investigation will be initiated as women harassment cases can really blemish a company’s image. Chances can be even higher that the assigned investigation officer could be a male who is not sensitive about such issues. Don’t be surprised if the investigation officer tries to find loopholes in your quality of work and interrogates about you as well as your personal lifestyle from your colleagues, clients and line manager. In my case this is exactly what happened and unfortunately they could not find any visible problems in my work. If this tactic fails they will try to apply other emotional strategies. Strategies like they asking you not to hyperventilate or make a fuss about this episode. Insensitive remarks like it is no big deal if seniors call you up as it would be for official purpose etc. Do not buzz from your ground and turn the table by asking the officer how they would have felt if the same incident would have happened with their wife or even their daughter because when I asked this question they were silent.
You taking back your complaint would not only weaken your image as an escapist but also boost up the ego of the perpetrator and will give a green signal to him to try on other women also.
- Resort to law if you feel that the investigation was not fair – Many a times the result of company’s investigation can be in favor of you. The harasser might not be shown the doors but his harassment will stop. If you are happy with this decision then good but if you are not happy and feel that the harasser should be clamped with more punitive actions then you can always resort to the legal option. You can either file a FIR at your nearest police station or approach a NGO which deals with women’s issues or even the National commission for women. Legal procedures could extend for a period of two to three years in district court and depends on the gravity of the complaint which means whether your complaint comes under cognizable or non cognizable crime. Sexual harassment complaints come under the purview of Section 354 of Indian Penal Code and they are cognizable crimes and some of them like assaulting a woman is a non–bailable crime.
- This too shall pass – No problem last for a lifetime except for terminal illness. So bright days will shine back. This is a crucial stage when you need to take care of your health as your mental health is at its most vulnerable phase. Connect with your friends, family or even professional counselor and do anything that can keep negative thoughts at bay. You converting into a negative or toxic person would be the biggest victory for your abuser. Hence hang on till the end.
- Keep your plan B ready – If you feel that the outcome of this entire process will put you in the radar and you are not comfortable with this attitude shift among your colleagues and seniors then keep your resume ready and start over again. Take help of those seniors who understand your issue and are at your side for recommendation. However do not leave your job in haste and leaving without securing a better opportunity should be your last resort. Fight your battle and leave with dignity when you really have something good in your basket rather than leaving empty handed.
To conclude workplace harassment that women face is not a recent phenomenon as it has existed since centuries.
Many women choose the convenient and comfortable path of compromising and fret a lot about consequences whereas very few who feel that their self respect is a non negotiable entity stand up against it. Be happy that you come in that elite list of very few women who speak up.
Playing the victim’s card can never help and in this process if you lose out a good chunk of your office friends and attract more scornful looks then it is absolutely fine because one should remember what Winston Churchill once said about having enemies:
You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.
Image credit: jonathanweavers.com
20 thoughts on “Workplace harassment problems of women in India and how to deal with them”
Mam, thanks for the advice and Hats off to you for standing up for your rights. Now if only there were some NGOs or rights group to help us during such trying time. If you have any information, please let us know.
Thank you for your kind words. Regarding NGOs the one that I prominently know is Majlis based in Mumbai and founded by eminent advocate MS.Flavia Agnes. They also conduct corporate training sessions for both HR and employees to sensitize about sexual harassment. Plus they also have women lawyers to help out. Hope it helps. Apart from this media can also play a very powerful role if you don’t want to go through legal way.
Madam, How to go to media. If we report to media, then it will be breach of confidentiality. I have many-many evidences of harassment at workplace, including pictures & audio recordings but ICC has been formed only to safeguard the accused as all the members of the ICC are colleagues/subordinates of the accused. I have been bearing this for almost than 1 year since my complaint. I have not been assigned any work, no chair, no table not even a desktop. I have been sitting o nvisitors sofa for a year, I have pictures, there is no seat for me in entire office where I have been attached since my complaint. In my place of earlier posting there was no toilet, also my boss didnt treat me well, he used to pass derogatory remarks & made me work till late night in a remote place in MP region where it is pitch dark at night & no public is there etc, I have the evidences. Please suggest, I cannot quit this job but want justice.
Dear madam /sir
I am. Working for last 4 month is a small proprietor form ,as a sales coordinator and have streamed line the work but.suddenly yesterday my boss the director himself said that I will be put in another department and some other person has been hired to do the same work profile but the problem is under whom now I am told to work is a freelancer pls advice what to do . I also came to know at my chair before also people have left with 3/4 months rime
I guess you can talk to the head of your department or your boss’s boss. If nothing works out then I feel it is time that you start looking out for better prospects because your situation cannot come under sexual harassment.
I have already raised one complaint for my coworker against sexual harrassment. He was also been warned for the same but again after few days he has started the same. But now he has not started staring but yes he has started coming to my bay and doing chit chat with other people though he knows the fact that i dont like his presence around me which really disturbs me mentally.
Please tell me would it come under sexual harrasment complaint??
Unfortunately sharing office space won’t come under sexual harassment.because he can always turn back and say that he was on official duty and did not interact with you. It would be better if you make yourself mentally strong by not being bothered of his presence.
How much possibility is there to punish the culprit by Termination, he used sexually abusive language and also proposed??
If you have written proofs in terms of SMS or email where he used abusive language then yes you can take action against him which can lead to termination if you approach the legal way.
If you have evidence like SMS or email to substantiate your statement then you can file a case against him which can cost his job also.
I being a female represent a media agency and founder of the same. While working on a project with a certain global giant, one of their senior employees who is a man verbally harassed me a couple of times by name calling and offensive language. Not only that but he tried to sabotage the project we were working on just a couple of days before its fruition. I have sent other relevant senior in his organisation a complaint on email and spoken to them verbally regarding the same. What measures can I take under law to protect myself and my company and make sure that this is not pushed under the rug?
You need to have evidence to stand your ground. Even prima facie witnesses who saw you being abused can also support the case
It is nice to see that you have taken initiative for womens right. I am Banker in prominent nationalise bank and my sister she is also working in a same organisation. We have served our organisation for 9+ years. My sister she got married and shifted to Bangalore and she was working in Bangalore Branch. In 2016 she gave birth to baby boy and since then child is facing health issues. In the meantime, her mother in law expired and her family has to shift to Manipal. During that period she has been posted to Karkala Branch which is around more than 30 km whereas she has requested for nearby place as her child is keeping unwell. But management didnt listen and forced her to join. After joining, her child health got more worse and she immediately on emergency has to leave to Mumbai wherein her child was treated. She informed the Branch manager about the situation and subsequently sent the mail to ZO PAD and Branch manager attaching the medical certificate. But there were lot of pressure from her branch manager to join and subsequently chief manager in zonal office in support of branch manager gave her notice as a disciplinary. But she has been continuously placing medical certificate and was informing the organisation about her child health . Also she requested to grant sabbatical leave in order to take care of her child. Now her inquiry is going on but branch manager is daily mentally harassing her , giving last moment wok which was assigned to other staff and telling that i will complain to ZO PAD and transfer to far places , I will change your department, making her sit late. Being a village area , there is no other transport except bus and daily night 8.30 he reaches home and leaves home 8.30morning. Child health has got worse and management is not taking any decision and blaming her . She is now very depressed . As a sister and women I think my organisation has been not favored and doing injustice to her and supporting the branch manager. She even met HR dept head but no one giving any solution to her problem. She is so depressed that she decided to leave job.Please help
I am working as HR in a Pvt. Ltd. Company having around 40-50 employee. My MD directly deal with regarding any HR related issues,but i have observed he never make eye contacts rather he stare somewhere else. I feel very uncomfortable. Also Company is running with some financial isssues and i have not been paid my last 3 months salary. Now I can’t directly leave the job as my money is at risk & if i lodge a complain in that case it will become difficult in my next job also for emp cross verification.
Kindly suggest what to do.
Madam, I(Female) am working in bank. Peon of office have insulted me by using abusive words, even he has did this same back in past months (not the abusive words but talked absurd) , I verbally complained to branch manager then the Peon said sorry. I need what I can do against him legally/other ways. I am in lot of stress and fear . Please guide me madam. Even 2 male staff is supporting him and come across to me in office again and again, to accept sorry and take back your complaint , they say the Peon is local and can do bad to yourself and to your family. I have family with two small kids. I am under tremendous stress. Please guide as soon possible. Thanking you in advance. Please madam. (I have submitted written complaint to branch manager ).
Thanks for such a wonderful eye opener article. I have got a question here. In our organisation, HR manager did the investigation on sexual harassment complaints which was reported based on POSH act. Most of the time they won’t even share copy of the complaints too.. Is this legal?
Hello.My daughter is highly placed working woman in MoEA.She is mother of a toddler,and bearing responsibility of home maker also.As you are aware finding a full time maide is very difficult. Being young mother,some time child create a fuss and she becomes late.In government offices or you may say in India, there is time to go office but not fixed time to leave office.My daughter working like a donkey but the Boss always make unpleasant remarks.He yells, sought and makes personal remarks.If she prepares a speech,he made 20,30 times corrections get her type , retype again and again.A smart and confident, competent person, ponder carefully and make all corrections in one go or two,but this man keep correction’s for days ,even on holidays,after office hours.
He also expects from her to be on phone and on-line after office hour and early in the morning,late night ,and on holidays also.How it is possible for women,who are working in various capabilities ? Here ,I would like to mention her job is not of a nature of emergency. It can be done with in office time calmly.
We Indians copy the technologies like Mobile, E-mail transmission ,but misuses it,and intrusion in personal lives to make the life a hell. We didn’t accepted their work culture, punctuality in leaving office also strictly.To honour privacy of a employeeMinistry of External Affairs does not provide any cretch facilities etc.Behaviour of male officers is very uncivilized, though its not sexual harassment, but very disappointing, disgusting, always scolding, taunting, making personal remarks etc.
There is no any policy for spouses posting together or any kind of adjustment.
They don’t tell at the time of recruitment that a lady officer has to face these problems.Having children and family’s becomes a trauma.Male and females officers becomes sadistic and in humane to each other.Therefore many lady officers remains unmarried.Rate of divorce is higher in this service.
Kindly will you take up this matter with the Minister Smt Sushma Swaraj,as she 8s very kind and noble human being.
I hope you will raise this issue with the ministry.Children are responsibility of whole society. Government should have give mothers flexible working hours and Bosses should be sympathetic,and respective of privacy and family life of a woman.
I m a bank manager.I m suffering due to various medical ailments.
But the life gone difficult due to work place harrasment such as name-calling,offensive behavior, deliberately insulting, unreasonable criticism since 2014 to Dec 2016.
I was trfd to another branch in routine process.But it was too late.Till than I was gripped by stress,anxiety ,panic attacks,guilt ,sense of injustice and psychological irritation caused by both BR.AGM in that period.
This workplace harrasment made a deep impact on my mental health and sense of well being since 2014.
Now I m again trfd to same Br.with the same AGM.
Within a week ,he insulted me twice without any reasons.This again caused panic attack of extreme stress during 15/01/2019 to 19/01/2019.
I m on leave since 17/12/2018 and applied for VRS in Feb 2019 stating my health and
workplace harrasment done to me due to my long and regular absence.
Now that AGM deliberately marking absence,not paying my salary,holding back my lease rent to my landlady even I m submitting medical certificate from big hospitals.
I requested him to adjust my PL/Cl/ 5 medical leaves as I m having no medical leaves due to earlier ailments, accidents2 angioplasty, typhoid with several lympnodes leading to infection if tuberculosis.
But he and HRD AGM,both are harrasment
me.I m having no money since January 2019 as no salary,perks are credited into my account.He knows about my health since June 2016.Still he harrasing me deliberately.
I m becoming suicidal.If something will happen to me who will take care of my husband and critically ill mother inlaw and very old father in law,as both of my children are unnarried till date and engaged in their professions.
Hello, It felt quite relatable reading your article and other comments. I am working since last 7 years as a manager, in one of the PSU bank. I am facing harrasment from my Branch Manager and Deputy Zonal Manager. I am 32 years old, unmarried independent woman. When I was posted in rural branch in 2017, my then BH started flirting with me, texting, n calling me. I didn’t pay any attention to his doings. That hurt his ego and he started insulting me in front my colleagues and customers. Still I completed my rural tenure in that branch in working in very unhealthy environment. When things got too far, I talked to my Zonal Manager personally n told him my problem. He immediately transferred me to city branch. But this resulted in heavy ego hurt of by then BH, so he started spreading rumours about me, my character, spoiling my image in my organisation. Now my colleagues don’t talk to me properly. They are prejudiced. I have done my Engineering n MBA from Pune. Even after being so highly educated n strong headed, I couldn’t do anything to better my image. This resulted in mental stress, anxiety n panic attacks. I started going to therapist but that didn’t help. Again I was regaining my confidence, my new city branch’s BH started calling me names. Questioning my work n working style. I have given my blood and sweat to this organisation. But in return I have never received any recognition. Now Deputy Zonal Manager along with my Branch Manager are harrasing me again. I am feeling too low. My parents thinks that I must concentrate on my marriage rather than these office issues. I am living with guilt that I don’t have courage to stand for myself. I don’t know whom to approach. I feels like going to police to file case against them. But I don’t know upto how much extent this will help.
what i am facing is not sexual harassment, i completely understand but it is acute mental harassment. For no reason my role is being eliminated only to be hired one level down, which is more person specific. i have been accused of hiding things from my boss ( without any example), being political ( his personal opinion) and have been reprimanded for any mistake that happens.
how should i handle this, every alternate week he keeps telling my job will get eliminated and he goes and tells juniors that he is getting better people and better roles for them.