In whose interest does this lie?


I read an article in this morning’s newspaper. The title of the article states that a decorated Navy doctor gropes a junior in the Vice-Admiral’s home

Someone once said that sexual harassment is inevitable in all places where men and women work together, so this case does not surprise me. It did not surprise me that the incident was not the first time that it happened, and it did not surprise me to learn from the same article that the female officer had already complained to senior officers after the first instance and there she was back the next day in the same place with the same man who had groped her the previous day.

I was surprised instead to find that the report did not enquire for instance that if the accused had been sent on forced leave; was there any action taken at all on the senior officers on their failure to act the first time that the complaint was brought to them? Because, the law holds employers accountable if they fail to act on complaints that are brought to their notice; and senior officers are employers according to the definition given in Section 2 (g) of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, Redressal) Act, 2013.

It did not enquire if the person heading the Board of Inquiry on this case was female because the presiding officer for the Internal Complaints Committee for Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace must be headed by a female. The article said it was a Captain and I learned  that a tenure on the sea is a must to become a Captain in the Indian Navy and women are not allowed on the ships as yet.

For those of us who work on the issue of sexual harassment at workplace, we know that it is one of the most underreported forms of violence against women. We know its pervasive nature and know how quickly a report of this nature can become the fodder for lunch time gossip and speculation about the complainant.

One does not deny that there is no reporting, but it is sporadic in nature and fails to elevate the issue from being merely a statistic or a piece of gossip to an issue that is a gross violation of human rights. It was fascinating for us to learn from participants at a media meet organised by Martha Farrell Foundation that stories on sexual harassment at workplace hold no weight for media unless it is laced with a degree of glamour.

In the same article, the reporter concluded by making a statement, (I quote) “the armed forces have been rocked by several sex scandals over the last few years…” and it goes on to share several instances in this regard.” The question of whether someone should be dismissed for having an extra marital affair or for having an affair with a senior colleague’s wife is debatable.

But what was the purpose of this additional information? And what was the purpose of this report? Is the reporter indicating that this was a sex scandal? Are we surprised that it was a decorated officer or that he was from the navy, or because it happened in the vice admiral’s home? What are we learning from this? Whose interest is being served by the knowledge that is being shared through this report?   

I leave you to mull over it. 

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