Sexual Harassment, Are men the reason or the remedy?
It was a very normal day at work. Normal for me, but it would perhaps become the most horrendous day of her life for another woman, my colleague. At first I was clueless as to why she was crying. But after a couple of days of her absence from work, some girls whispered to me, that some one had actually posted her a mail containing a morphed picture of her on a body of a nude.
We had limited internet access and no social networking in those days, yet the trauma the girl suffered was unspeakable because she was aware that the mail was probably circulated internally among the men. Most of us tried to reason, telling her, “Maybe not many people have seen it”. But that was just a fake re-assurance. I could see her lost eyes, searching into our eyes and smiles to get a hint whether we had seen the photo or not. She walked in and out of office everyday, with her head bowed down and arms across her body. I wanted to reach out to her, to comfort her. But I knew anyone even remotely trying to talk to her about the incident, would further hurt her. So I pretended that I didn’t know a thing.
Many people walked up to her or her friends to ask what happened. She was aware that people were discussing her in graphic details behind her back. It didn’t matter then whether people had seen that photo or not, but the fact that they were now dissecting it, was tearing her apart. So I never asked her what happened. I just wanted her to get that assurance that, not many people have seen it. If she was a cheerful or bindaas person, I would have perhaps told her a joke or two to help her cope with it. But like any other normal sensitive girl she was not in a state to talk about it.
In a week’s time, she developed deep dark circles under her eyes. I know that she would perhaps have a very tough time coping with it, forgetting it and living with the stench of the memory for a very long time. It was very upsetting news for most of the other girls because we realized that we were all sitting ducks potential victims. The person who had send her the photo was someone close to her or known to her because that is how he would have known her email ID. Also we realized that the software and skill required to do such a thing, was only possible in our own team, the highly skilled graphics team.
For days I felt irritated, angry and frustrated at the ease with which any man can cause havoc to a woman’s reputation by doing such a despicable thing. The guy was never caught, obviously because there were no such laws or rules or regulations placed by the HR. The tech support team wasn’t equipped to trace the email, and I guess the victim wouldn’t want to pursue the case for fear of more people getting to know about it. She in all probability would be advised to forget about it. But does one forget? Has she not been scarred? Will she be able to be comfortable with it?
I for one couldn’t trust any of the guys, especially her friends from then on. There were the usual suspects and we avoided them like the plague. I used to wonder looking at the other guys, that if we had told them what happened, how would they have reacted? Would they have enjoyed the picture, or supported her, or made a joke about it later, or confessed to have seen the photo or even give up the name of the person who did it.
It was a sure case of vengeance. But what would have happened even if we had got to know who did it? Is there any punishment for such people? Could punishing him / them, resolve the trauma the woman went through? There was no way that HR could pull a plug to it. All it could do was keep a tab on internal mail. There was a gag on internet usage and that was the only possible way.
About 5 yrs after that incident I got to know about the law against sexual harassment. That is when I regretted that if I had known about this law or the guidelines, I could have empowered my colleague to talk to the company, to talk to the male employees, or maybe I could instill some amount of courage in her to fight for her self-respect and let the company take serious action against the crime. In the following years I have heard many such cases of women being harassed with such pictures. There is no end to it.
Recently just few months back some political groups posted pictures of senior women of Indian politics, morphed over seminude women’s bodies, & all and sundry, sane & educated, decent people who have access to “Facebook” & are thoroughly computer literate were circulating those as jokes (sick). The pictures were widely shared and everybody enjoyed them.
Nobody found anything objectionable, unethical or distasteful in the social / moral degradation of the human psyche that it was permissible to laugh at a middle aged woman’s morphed image and derive a perverted pleasure out of it. Perhaps the lady in question is also aware of the photos. Perhaps she too walks into her cabinet with uncertainty about whether her colleagues and children have seen those photos or not. Perhaps she too spends endless nights strengthening her will to not break down in the face of such gender based harassment.
My question is, in a country where we are fighting every day for respect for every woman, irrespective of class, creed or color,.. Is it right or acceptable that a female criminal is paraded naked or a politician is humiliated publicly... in a public forum...by the top cream of educated, supposedly 'genteel', skilled folks, generation Y, (people with computers and “Facebook”) of this country?
One man’s freedom of speech ends where another’s nose begins. Have we as a society made it acceptable that in the name of vengeance, protest and freedom of speech we can resort to gender based harassment of women at workplaces, whatever high or low is their office?
In the case of the politician / public figure… does she not have a right to protest, to want regulatory measures so that her photos won't go up like that?... Does a public figure have no right to dignity if she is holding a high office? Should we ignore her just because she is a politician...? What if we ignore her and such 'JOKES' get played with every woman / daughter in this country.... what then? Would we be able to ask the same politician to protect our privacy?
The anger or resentment is against her office / her post / her policies. But does it mean that she should be victimized based on her gender? Could the men have stopped the photos from circulation? Did the men consider that in the end whether she is a public figure or a politician holding a high office, in the end, she is a WOMAN, a mother, a grand-mother? Isn’t there any other way of protest which doesn’t resort to Gender based harassment?
If we cannot stand up now to protect the dignity of a politician then with what face can we walk up to her when we need her to make laws to protect ours?
In a country which treats its public figures with such disregard, where they should have respect and honor, what kind of regard, respect and honor can we demand for the common man / woman?
This Blog is part of the Men Say No Blogathon, encouraging men to take up action against the violence faced by women.
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