Imagine this scenario: it’s an early Monday morning, say 7 a.m. A young girl, let me call her Amrita, wakes up feverish with excitement. She has barely slept all night. Her heart is singing as her dream day is finally here. She dresses up in the clothes she had laid out the night before. She double checks her bag and documents folder for the hundredth time to be sure she is carrying all that is necessary. It’s the first day of her working life. She has spent the last few years of her life spent convincing the world around her that it is alright for her to have ambitions. That even though she was in her mid-twenties she is not ready to ‘settle down’ to domestic bliss. She has thwarted the plans of conniving aunts and disdainful uncles; she is on the path that dreams are made of.
Her parents wave her goodbye. With a twinkle in her eye and a spring in her step she walks out towards the metro station. As she nears the station a bunch of no-good Romeos whistle and pass remarks that she ignores; she lives in a metro; she’s heard and seen worse. She all but bounces into the swanky building that houses her new offices and is introduced to her team members by her new boss. All should go well for this young go-getter – after all she is well qualified for the job, intelligent, capable, determined and a hard worker.
But No! Within three months Amrita begins to lose her sparkle. The early morning alarm sounds like a dirge. The spring in her step changes into the dragging walk of one that is world weary. The catcalls now send a shiver down her spine. The office building hovers menacingly in front of her as she takes the last few reluctant steps towards a dream gone awry.
The first few days of work were a breeze. Amrita felt she was walking on air. Everything seemed to have fallen in place. She was working hard and was singled out for praise by her boss a number of times. Several years her senior, Amrita looks upon him with eyes full of wonder. To her he is a mentor and someone whom she can learn a lot from. Till she starts to notice the slow invasion of her personal space. She brushes aside her qualms thinking she is overreacting. Then he begins to push further into her space, he asks her to stay later than the others. His hand brushes up against hers accidently, or not? Not in the least romantically inclined towards him, she is discomfited to say the least. She is desperate to discuss all this with someone but who can she talk to? She cannot speak to parents or her brother; they will not understand and will ask her to quit her job immediately. She cannot speak to her work colleagues. She talks to her best friend who tells her that she is probably imagining things. She again consoles herself that maybe her friend is right.
Then comes the fateful day when after a particularly late evening at the office she accepts Mr. Boss’s offer for a lift home. She is unsure at first but he tells her another colleague is also getting dropped off, so she acquiesces. When she reaches the car she realizes it was a ruse and she is alone with him. Afraid of causing a scene, she gets into the car and soon enough she feels his hand on her thigh inching towards her private parts. Startled, she pushes his hand away, and he tells her, “Now don’t be coy. You’ve been giving me hints from day one.” She stammers and tells him that he is mistaken, to which he angrily speeds up the car and screeches to a stop on a lonely stretch. Pulling her towards him, he tries to kiss her. Shocked and incapacitated, she finds herself helpless at the onslaught, till finding some strength from somewhere she hits the horn hard. The sound of the blaring horn deflects the man’s attention and she opens the door and all but falls out of the car. Shaken, yet with her sense of preservation intact, she makes a dash towards sounds of habitation. He guns the car towards her, but an approaching motorist scares him off. He throws her handbag out of the window, leaving her stranded in the dark and in the middle of nowhere. That night Amrita is lucky – she manages to reach home safely.
The next day she is afraid to go to office. But go she must. Her dreams are hard won. When she comes face to face with her tormentor the next day, he is nonchalant, as if nothing ever happened. When she confronts him in his office, he lets her know that it is her word against his and she should understand that he was the one the company would believe. Lacking confidence Amrita shuts down. Her work suffers and the praise turns into harsh rebukes.
Workplace safety is something every one of us should take for granted. There are many girls like Amrita who do not have a voice. They are not aware of their rights.
Young girls like Amrita need to know they have support. Many organisations like Martha Farrell Foundation are working to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace. Let us spread the word: SAY NO TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT.
About the author: Vasudha Chandna Gulati is a voracious reader, taking after her compulsive bookworm Mum. An Honours Graduate in English from Delhi University and a Masters Diploma in Marketing from Dehradun, she has donned many hats – teacher, marketing manager, small business owner – as she followed her husband from Delhi to Bangalore to Chandigarh and now in Gurgaon where she is presently based. She has published one short story in “Defiant Dreams- Tales of Everyday Divas” by Readomania. Two of her stories have won 1st and 3rd place in the first season of The Times of India Write India Contest and will soon be published. She also blogs at email@example.com.