Mumbai-headquartered startup TVF got into the news for the all the wrong reasons a few months ago when co-founder Arunabh Kumar was accused of sexual harassment by a subordinate.
The incident snowballed when several other employees raised their concerns about Arunabh's conduct after the first allegation. It was as if the dam had been breached and a previously taboo topic could now be broached. Arunabh Kumar and some of his team, on the other hand, denied the allegations and Arunabh is out on bail. But one positive fallout of the case is that several startups in the city have taken the issue seriously.
Powai-based startup Bizongo has initiated a meet up with its employees to encourage them to report sexual harassment. “At Bizongo, we believe that to move upwards, it is important for all to understand the importance of upholding values and providing a safe working environment. Recent times have brought to light many incidents of sexual harassment at workplaces from across the world. We, at Bizongo, want to educate the team on sexual violence and prevention in order to encourage a safe and sound workplace,” says Aniket Deb, co-founder &CEO, Bizongo. Here's the Bizongo team at one of its meet ups.
The startup has also set up an in-house committee called the 'ICC - Internal Complaints Committee' which comprises three women from Bizongo and one person from outside Bizongo. The contacts of everyone in this Committee are made available to all employees. The idea is to have an extremely approachable committee to discuss any issue that the employees would have. The session conducted with SheSays, a non-profit organisation who believes that equality, safety and autonomy should be a guaranteed right and reality for women around the world. It raised a lot of interesting questions and curiosity about this topic in much more detail both in men and women employees. Future sessions will have some of these questions as their focus.
24 years old Tanushree Sinha who works with Malad-based Faddish Pvt Ltd, a digital marketing service company, says that she has not faced any sexual harassment at her workplace but believes that one should not be silent about it. “Women should be more vocal about any untoward sexual behaviour. The more she suppresses it, the more she might have to face difficulties and her oppressors will take her for granted. She will not only ensure her further safety but the safety of all women if she stands up for herself and reports the abuse,” says Tanushree. She also thinks that workshops should be conducted to sensitise all genders to the issue. “Most companies do not conduct such workshops but they should. Given the age and time in which we live, we should collectively empower women and form an environment conducive to their protection,” she avers.
She Says is an autonomous body which aims to end gender-based discrimination and advance women's rights in India by engaging with youth and activating them as agents of social change to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “We started with schools and colleges, then slums and underprivileged youth. After a workshop in collaboration with the US Consulate we started our sessions at the workplace. We also have a special curriculum on child sexual abuse. Bizongo was the first startup that reached out to us for conducting this workshop. What we do in a workshop is we make a full circle and ask the participants to close their eyes. We asked them certain questions on sexual abuse. If the answer is yes, a participant comes one step ahead and likewise, it forms the inner circle. At the end of the exercise, men remain outside the circle and this shows the prevalence of sexual crimes against women in India,” says Prageeyaa Khanna, gender advocacy lead, SheSays. She believes that Internal Complaints Committee should be an autonomous body comprise of members outside the company. “This will help the victim to report her harassment story without any fear. Also, women who work in the canteen or have low job profile, are not aware of the laws. They should be made aware of sexual harassment act,” adds Prageeyaa.
We got in touch with a woman (who got ready to speak with us on the condition of anonymity) who went through an ordeal at her company owing to the harassment. The result was that she was terminated. She was bullied and dominated by her immediate manager and was constantly looked down upon. Her male colleague was being favoured. But when she reported about it, she was not entertained, instead, she was shown the door. “Laws are not for common people, they are for rich people, politicians who misuse it. I went to Maharashtra Women’s Commission and Labour court against my company who did not act on my sexual harassment complaint, but nothing is being done. I am still waiting for justice. I suffered breakdown and termination because I reported harassment. It was unfair judgement,” she says.
24 years old Tanushree Sinha who works with Malad-based Faddish Pvt Ltd, a digital marketing service company, says that she has not faced any sexual harassment at workplace but she believes that one should not be silent about it. “Women should be more vocal about any untoward sexual behaviour. The more she suppressed, the more she might have to face difficulties and her oppressors will take her for granted. She will not only ensure her further safety but the safety of all women if she stands up for herself and reports the oppressions done to her,” said Tanushree. She also thinks that workshops should be conducted for the same. “Most companies do not conduct such workshops but they should. Given the age and time in which we live, we should collectively empower women and form an environment conducive to her protection,” she said.
Another Mumbai resident, 25 years old Samantha Fonseca who works with Johnson & Johnson, has also not had any unpleasant experiences at the workplace but thinks that women don't report sexual harassment for many reasons. “Being judged and not being believed would probably be one of the reasons why women would shy away from reporting. The society we have been brought up in doesn't really allow people to talk about such incidents openly, which is extremely unfortunate. As much as it would be required and necessary, sexual harassment should be explained at the college or school so that young girls are aware right from the beginning,” says Samantha.
Many such start-ups are taking the initiative to sensitise the issue harassment. However, a survey conducted by the Indian Bar Association earlier this year drew the conclusion that 70% women do not report sexual harassment by their superiors, fearing repercussions. The survey was done by talking to 6,047 respondents. National Crime Records Bureau data also indicates that sexual harassment at workplaces doubled from 57 to 119 between 2014 and 2015.
TVF's Arunabh Kumar is not the only one in his league. Over the years, the nation has seen a spate of such cases.
- Tarun Tejpal - Tehelka website founder Tarun Tejpal was accused of molesting a junior female colleague in Goa in 2014. He faced a trial in a Goa court for two years and now is now out on bail.
- KPS Gill - Punjab DGP KPS Gill was accused of touching senior IAS officer Rupan Deol Bajaj inappropriately at an official party.
- Gopal Kanda- In 2012, a 23-year-old air hostess Geetika Sharma held former Haryana minister Gopal Kanda guilty for her suicide. She wrote the same in her suicide note. The case is still going on in the Delhi High Court.
Until workplaces are sensitised to the issue of sexual harassment, we may not be free of this menace. Mumbai Live has just two words of advice - Speak Up!