It’s a global rage already. It’s all over the media and social platforms. #Metoo has taken the world by storm.
My story is no different. It is the usual one – a young journalist trying to stabilise her career in the largest selling vernacular daily (Ananda Bazar Patrika), blindly trusting senior male colleagues as godfathers, one of them starting to take advantage, young journalist feeling helpless, trying to adjust, but unable to take it anymore, she ends up complaining. What happens then?
The story starts from that point. What happened when one was sexually harassed in such a big corporate media conglomerate way back in 2008? She was just married, just completed her Masters degree, just trying to set her foot in a new role in the all-male district desk. Whom did she confide to? What was she advised? What was the role of the honchos sitting at the top and the then proprietor cum Editor, the white dhoti clad Calcutta Babu, face of an imaginary Bengal renaissance?
The story lies there. More than the solitary desk where the district Bureau Chief Sanjay Sikdar used to come and touch the young girl on the shoulders and below, the story lies in the pungent grin and playful banters of the then News Editor Hirak Bandopadhyay. More than the obscene and abominable remarks of Mr Sikdar about the young woman’s sanitary pads, her innerwear, her clothes and her sex life, the story secretly lies around the dark-brown mahogany table inside the office chamber of the Babu, which was no less than a murky feudal palace with slaves moving in and out.
Adjusting to the pervert touches of a father figure every day, the young journalist desperately seeks help from Mr Bandopadhyay, the News Editor. Little did she know or think, that her daily anguish would be used as a means to satisfy Bandopadhyay’s professional ego. She, with her teary eyes, broken confidence and wounded heart, was unable to imagine that all those would be ruthlessly used as a pawn to win over a corporate power-play. That all his words of sympathy were just a means of deluding the young girl, while in reality he was stabbing on her back.
She was asked by Bandyopadhyay to lodge an official complaint against Sikdar before the newly formed sexual harassment cell. He knew pretty well that the cell was headed by a woman employee Shiuli Biswas, the then HR head as well as a close confidante of Sikdar, and she would do nothing and Sikdar would be easily exonerated.
Much later, the young journalist wondered if it was a clear case of a newsroom warfare, whereby her dignity and pain were so casually compromised. Sikdar played with her limbs, and Bandopadhyay with her honour, integrity, self-esteem and morale, most likely to settle his own score against Sikdar. A few eyewash meetings were called on behalf of the sexual harassment cell, where the journalist was bitterly grilled just to prove that she has no proof whatsoever against Sikdar. She was devastated and lost.
Just then, as if someone was waiting for the ripe moment of her breakdown, there came a formal call from the Babu’s feudal palace. It was her first (and last of course) meeting with the man. Accompanied duly with a nerd-faced Bandopadhyay, she entered that bleary black room and was asked to sit at the mahogany table. Now there were three persons in the room – the Babu, the sly-face and the victim.
Babu spoke in a suave manner. His voice unperturbed and stolid. But enough to drag away ground beneath the young woman’s feet. His first question was, why did you lodge a complaint?
Journalist: Mr Bandopadhyay advised me to.
Babu: Who is he to advice? He is no one. Who cares what he said?
Journalist: Sir, he is our News Editor. I confided in him first and he suggested that I lodge an official complaint.
Babu: So? Don’t you have a judgement of your own? Why are you following his?
Journalist: Sir, I felt his advice was justified as the harassment was getting intolerable for me.
Journalist: Yes, Sir.
Babu – But I heard you do not have any proof.
Journalist: How can one have proof of sexual harassment?
Babu (with a smile): Then how can one think that there can be a redressal?
Journalist (trying to swallow her tears): Then why have you created the harassment cell, Sir?
Babu: Because it is a corporate need of the time, lady. Just like the useless judicial system we have in our country! We have courts, lawyers, judges… But how many people get justice? Almost none. A sexual harassment cell is like that. It is created because today’s corporate structure demands it. That’s all, my dear.
All this while Bandopadhyay sat there looking intently at his mobile phone. He spoke no word, nor did he look at the woman once. She was feeling miserable by now, the impact of Babu’s words had crushed her confidence.
Babu went on saying: If you have a fight with your brother, if your dad slaps you once, do you go to the police station? No, you settle it among yourselves instead. Then why did you go for a complaint here? Isn’t this your family? Withdraw the complaint. And do it fast. Just mention that it was a misunderstanding and you do not wish to continue with this trouble. I can get you transferred to another department if you like.
Journalist: What if I do not withdraw the complaint? And I do not want a transfer either, Sir, because I love my job and I get along well with my other colleagues in the department.
Babu: Then the inquiry will continue and it will ultimately prove you a liar and you shall be forced to write an apology. Would that be a more respectable solution for you?
The woman had been pushed to the wall successfully. Now it was her turn to declare her choice. But in her mind, she had already composed the resignation letter. So the only thing she could say was, “Sorry Sir, I shall not withdraw the complaint. But neither will I wait here to see the outcome.”
She rushed out of that room, hurriedly typed the resignation letter and sent it to the News Editor, the HR and the Bureau Chief. Little did she know that by then, Bandopadhyay had cooked up his own creative version of the meeting for circulation in the News Room – “Babu koto bhalo bhabe oke bojhate chailen, koto kotha bolte chailen, koto solution dilen, ar ki sanghatik oshobhyo meye, ki obhodro byabohartai na korlo oto boro manushtar shathe…” (Babu tried his best to make her understand, he was so patient with her, he offered her a solution, but look at her uncivilised and rude behaviour! What a way to behave with such a great man!)
The news of the resignation spread like a stink in the News Room. Most of her colleagues (women and men), whom she still loves dearly, rushed to her desk saying “Tui jabi na. Jete debo na eibhabe.” (You won’t resign. We won’t let you go like this). Emotions ran high, rage flamed up. Her colleagues forced her to write a letter for withdrawal of her resignation and rushed to the HR with a copy since it was not even half an hour after the meeting had concluded.
But the HR informed curtly that her resignation had already been accepted. A uniformed security guard came to ask for her ID card which she had to submit right away. Within 40 minutes of that meeting, she was no longer an employee of ABP. Her employee account was closed and she could not even take a printout of her complaint, her resignation letter, her last few payslips… Nothing.
She was jostled out of that enormous building, where she had learned to dream big. The white office building – which her friends jokingly referred to as the Taj Mahal – buried her dignity and pride. It proved to be a symbol of enormous, supreme power where women are guillotined every day and there exists no one who can dare to utter a word of protest.
[We wrote to Mr Suman Banerjee, head of ABP’s HR department, seeking his response. We will update the story when we hear from him. We had written to Mr Banerjee earlier, seeking his response on the narrative of another former employee. We will update both articles as soon as we get his response.
We have also sent a message to Mr Sanjay Sikdar, mentioned in this article. Though the messages reached him, we have not heard from him yet.
We also spoke with Mr Hirak Bandopadhyay. He said he will take some time to respond. We have told him we will update this piece with his response when he sends it].