I joined Anandabazar Patrika – the largest-circulated Bengali daily – in mid-February 2006 at the news desk, and I joined the reporting section from April 1 that year. From the very beginning, Debdut Ghoshthakur was my boss, the Chief Reporter.
A number of young women had joined ABP around the same time – all of us were 22-23 years old then. He was very senior in the profession. From the beginning, he would put his hand around my shoulder and on my back (he did the same with other women in the department too), he would comment on the clothes we wore, especially comment on the cut and depth of the neckline, he would put his hand on women’s shoulders so he could touch the bra.
And this is how he spoke with all women in the department: “Tor pachha ta boro hoye jachhe (your buttocks are growing), “ki oshleel jama porechhish” (you are wearing such revealing clothes). These were some of his most favourite lines told to junior female colleagues.
I was a bit confused – wasn’t this sexual harassment? At the same time, we would like the way he sang, said funny things. He seemed to be very popular. We were too young and unable to figure out how newspaper offices functioned. Was this the generally accepted atmosphere at work?
After my marriage, if he caught me yawning, he would ask, “Why are you yawning? Ah! Must be because you were awake all night doing that!” He would say such things to other women and men too. He would also enjoy cracking bawdy jokes, using filthy language all the time. He would say women were not good as employees because they would soon get married and then get pregnant.
When a horrific incident took place in Barasat, in the northern fringes of Kolkata, in which a young man was killed trying to protect his elder sister from molesters, the ABP’s male reporters in their evening meeting discussed that it was “normal” for men to feel the urge to touch women.
One evening, Ghoshthakur and I were taking the same office pool car home, because we both lived in south Kolkata and office cars were allotted accordingly. Ghoshthakur pinched my buttocks the moment I got into the car after him. I was numb with shock and jumped out immediately. I decided to sit by the side of the driver on the way home.
Next morning, I reported the matter to our News Editor, who was Debdut Ghoshthakur’s boss. He laughed. That was his first reaction. When I asked him why he was laughing, he stopped and said he would look into the matter. But he did nothing.
Once, I was on an early morning assignment on the day an important examination was being held in Kolkata schools. Ghoshthakur would always come to office by 10.30 am. That was a huge threat for women reporters on morning duty, because they didn’t know what he might do and/or say. That day, when I was filling up a car requisition form, he came from behind and put his arms around me, holding me tight from behind. I was so shocked, I screamed. I told him this was unacceptable. He laughed and said he did it just out of fun. No one did anything about the disgusting environment in the office. I thought I would need to adjust because I was really enjoying my work and I didn’t want to risk my job. I needed the salary desperately which is why giving up my job was not an option. And then what does one do if complaints are not addressed by those who are responsible for it?
In 2015, I was in office on the day the Higher Secondary results were out. I was working since 9 am, and around 12.30 pm, I wanted to take a break and eat something. Ghoshthakur came to me and slapped me hard on my buttocks. My patience ran out. I could no longer take it. I screamed and told him it was unacceptable. There were not too many people in the office at the time, but even those present did not come forward in support. I told the News Editor again and he asked me to inform the matter to a senior journalist in the department. The reaction of this senior journalist was outrageous. He asked me, “How does Debdut dare to do such things only with you?”
Then I went to the office of Ms Shiuli Biswas who was then part of the HR department. She heard everything and told me that she had heard similar stories about Ghoshthakur. However, a few hours later, she called me and told me that I had been transferred to Ebela, a tabloid newsmagazine of the ABP group. I was shocked! I didn’t want to work for Ebela, I told Ms Biswas clearly. It was not an important product of the company and certainly not as important as working for the ABP main newspaper. This would be seen as a punishment. Transfer me to any of the magazines or to The Telegraph if this is not a punishment, I told her. But she refused to listen. She said the transfer was happening under the instruction of the then Editor-in-chief Aveek Sarkar. I was asked to take a three-day break and to join Ebela after that.
I was devastated. I was doing very well in my career. I would get to do good stories and do many more important assignments. And here, out of the blue, I was transferred to a tabloid newsmagazine from an important place simply because I had complained against repeated sexual harassment. What kind of justice was that? I was never called by Shiuli Biswas again, nor did Mr Sarkar, under whose instruction the transfer apparently took place, call me in his office to ask what had happened.
I wanted to quit the job. I left the organisation a month and a half after this and joined Ei Samay.
However, even though I left Anandabazar Patrika, Debdut Ghoshthakur continued to work as Chief Reporter till his retirement. Not only that, he even got an extension after retirement.
[The Bengal Story got in touch with Debdut Ghoshthakur and he said: “I completely deny. It is really unfortunate.”
We also got in touch with Shiuli Biswas. Biswas said: “I cannot respond because one, I cannot recall the exact sequence of events the way you’ve mentioned her narrative. Two, I am no longer part of the HR department. Three, it must have gone to the internal committee that handles sexual harassment and must be in the office records. We got in touch with Suman Banerjee, who is now the company’s HR head. He could not be contacted over phone despite repeated attempts. We sent him an email with the details, seeking his response. This piece will be updated as soon as we hear from him.]
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