NIFT Fires 56 Women To Protect One Man Accused of Sexual Harassment
What chance, then, does one woman’s word have?
Institutions and companies have once again bent the law to shield a person accused of sexual harassment by not just one, but a whopping 56, women.
Despite having numbers on their side, the women were fired on Tuesday, while the accused, D. Srinivas Reddy, a stenographer at Hyderabad’s National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), continues to be employed — as reported by The News Minute. The termination orders came a day after these women, who were the housekeeping staff, took to the streets demanding his resignation.
“Srinivas used to sexually harass women employees who would attend to his cabin. He would hold the women staff by their hips, click their photographs without consent, and invite them home to sleep with him,” Ratna Kumari, supervisor of the housekeeping staff, told TNM. “He became so open about his acts that he would directly come to me and ask me to send young and pretty women to his cabin. When I told him that none of the women wanted to work with him, he said that I have a good figure and asked me to sleep with him,” she added.
The staff has accused Srinivas of using sexual expletives and connotations while speaking to them, and of asking them to sleep with him after claiming that his wife wasn’t home.
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Tired and unable to bear the harassment that went on for a year, few women staffers also quit their jobs, according to Kumari. It was in October 2018, that she finally lodged a harassment case with the Madhapur police station after her complaint with the on-campus authorities received no response or action.
In the meantime, Srinivas continued to threaten the women and the contractor of the agency they were hired from.
“Srinivas wasn’t authorized to look after the housekeeping services and I was puzzled. And never before have I received a complaint about any of my staff,” Murali, owner of Murali Manpower Agency, told TNM. “I went to the campus the next day and enquired with Kumari about the issue. She and the other women told me they were sexually harassed by Srinivas, and they were filing a complaint with the cops. I offered Kumari a job elsewhere, but she wasn’t ready to step back. She told me she wouldn’t resign because she had done no wrong,” he added.
The case was escalated to the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) of NIFT-Delhi, and Kumari says, “…one of the members informed us unofficially that they understood that it was a case of sexual harassment. But after seven months, officials in Hyderabad claim there has been no harassment and Srinivas Reddy is still continuing in his job.”
Meanwhile, TNM says that the ICC in Hyderabad claims to know nothing about the case and say that, “…the matter was taken care of by authorities in Delhi.”
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Kumari, along with other women, has resolved to keep fighting till Srinivas is thrown out of his job. She said, “Many of us here have been working on the campus for the past two decades. Why are they picking faults only now?” She adds, “The one is who harassing us is being protected inside the institute and we are being threatened and are losing jobs. They (the director and the faculty) keep threatening us. They say we can get our jobs back if we compromise. But we do not want to compromise. The director general of NIFT is a woman. We don’t know if she is aware of the issue yet. Wouldn’t she at least ensure that we get justice?”
But like any other #MeToo case, this fight will also be long and the legal process, endless. The women here followed the due process — approached on-campus authorities, waited for the ICC to help them, and when they saw no help coming, approached the police. When it looked like they were siding with NIFT too, the women finally staged a protest, and got fired as a result. For people who ask why women don’t file official complaints, when they do, this is what they get.
Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she's busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.