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Today, I am going to detail a case for you that is quite unique and speaks for the grit of the woman who took on the high and mighty and won despite all odds. But she took almost 12 years to get justice and had to put her career and personal life on hold, suffer traumas and seek counseling and gynecological consults to keep her sanity and physical health intact.

Meet Rina Mukherjee, a Senior journalist who had an experience of a decade in her field till she took a sabbatical after having a daughter. Resuming her career after 5 years, she got a job as a Senior journalist in “The Statesman” in Kolkata. Here she was subjected to sexual harassment by her senior.  When she complained about this to a higher authority in the media house, she was advised to talk it out with her boss and no attention was paid to her complaint. When she tried to minimize contact with her boss, she was terminated from her job citing incompetence in October 2002. She filed a case in the labor court for wrongful termination subsequently. And finally in February 2013, she was awarded a judgment in her favor after a long, grueling battle of 9 years. Do read her entire struggle in her own words in these articles:

http://kractivist.wordpress.com/2013/02/15/dr-rina-mukherji-wins-case-of-sexual-harassment-against-the-statesman-after-10-years-vaw-justice/

http://nwmindia.org/articles/rina-mukherjis-case-against-the-statesman

As a woman and a professional, I can only imagine her humiliation and insult at being dismissed for incompetency. It makes me sick to the guts that a strong media house uses muscle power to not only stonewall investigation but also to silence employees and pressure the police. She suffered on account of our justice system which fails the innocent and the powerless repeatedly. Those who have grappled with it will realize that empty courtrooms due to judges’ transfers and long waits for judge reappointment can eat up a lot of time and demoralize the victim. The tardy system easily allows powerful people to manipulate the judicial system to punish those who do not have the required “contacts.” To trouble her further, The Statesman also lodged two libel suits against her, one in Kolkata and the other in Delhi, that ensured that she had to constantly shuttle between Kolkata and Delhi for all these years! These cases have still not been decided as yet. She could not take on any steady employment and had to work as a freelancer due to these cases. Her schedules went haywire not to mention her emotional and physical health. She spent a lot of money in her pursuit of justice. Time and again people discouraged her and asked her to forget about it. Most of us would have done that. But, she was made of sterner stuff. She not only fought on but fought on till she got justice no matter how long and difficult the path.

Do read her moving story in the links shared above. When I saw her story on Crime Patrol, I was motivated to research and find out more about her. Rina, I salute your spirit and determination to stand up and fight injustice. I hope that your case will provide motivation for many women out there who face the same in their workplaces but prefer to either tolerate sexual harassment or quit, often emboldening the perpetrator. White collar criminals are often difficult to prosecute due to their money, status and contacts. And did you know that even the police is harassed when they go to investigate due to their clout. And, it is very sad that Corporates stand by these criminals instead of honest employees. But, you proved that no matter how hard and difficult, justice comes to those who persevere. I wish you luck for your future endeavors. You are an inspiration, lady!

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Meanwhile, Workplace sexual harassment law has been passed in Parliament in February 2013. But according to many, the law lacks teeth. See this Wall Street journal article on the same.

Picture courtesy: http://kractivist.wordpress.com

Update: Since some commenters have raised valid concerns about the lengthy judicial process and also misuse of this by women, here is an update. The new Workplace sexual harassment Law says that each organization must have a sexual harassment cell. Any person (gender neutral) can complain to this cell. The organization has to carry out an investigation which is time bound (upto 90 days). This gives a chance to every employee to complain. And also the process does not act as a deterrent to complaining. This also makes it easier to challenge the case in a labor court in case an organization fires you after your complaint.

Pinnable image Shutterstock

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45 Thoughts on “A woman who took on the high and mighty against sexual harassment!

  1. This lady is really great, Rachna! Yes, most of us would have kept quiet or change jobs. Fighting for justice for so many years…hats off to her!

  2. Gurdev Parmar on April 30, 2013 at 12:07 pm said:

    I was so disturbed by her story that I went to the site of “The Statesman” and wrote a letter to their editor asking why they risk their prestige in defending a pervert. I urge all to do the same so that they may feel the pinch of the masses.

  3. Very sorry state of affairs. All women are proud of Rina. Hats off to you Rina.

  4. Fighting for so many years despite all odds… hats off to Rina. May her tireless fight for justice inspire others too.

    • I hope so too Shilpa. And we always think that it is the government only that is to blame. Look at Corporate sector. Is its treatment of women any better?

  5. Why does fight for justice have to take such a tedious path? Why is the complainant always made to feel like the perpetrator?

    I forwarded this link to a friend who was looking for help in filing a sexual harassment case. This is what she had to say – Very Disheartening. From the treatment this subject was given,to the price she had to pay for justice! About time this changes!

  6. Must salute her spirit that nothing could crush – neither the indifferent system nor the seeming futility of the task.

  7. If this is what a smart, educated, urban woman has to go through to get justice, what is left to be said about the 90% of the Indian women who have it worse in terms of their financial and social realities?

    • Exactly Rickie! That came to my mind too. Imagine how far away justice is for almost the entire country when the educated, financially stable working woman has to undergo this. Very sad state of affairs in this country. And the rot in the private sector is as bad; it is just that these stories don’t often come out. Imagine Corporates shielding such perpetrators ruthlessly. Add to the woes is a judicial system that is extremely tardy.

  8. Nine years…that is too much. Hats off to her.

    • Actually 11 years if you consider that she got terminated in 2002 and then was making the rounds of NGOs, police stations, lawyers in vain before finding some direction and filing her case. Indeed, salute her grit.

  9. Smita on April 30, 2013 at 3:37 pm said:

    I admire this lady for taking up the fight! Though the hardships that she went thru which she did not deserve but then the fact that despite that she stood her ground is something praiseworthy.

    I too have been thru this kind of stuff. I had a boss who I can say had X-Ray eyes!! One day when he was talking to my chest; instead of squirming I folded my arms on my chest and looked sternly into his eyes. From that day onwards his nautankis of calling me in the cabin unnecessarily and trying to touch my hand (yes he did that)stopped. Though I had shared this with a common colleague but never complained formally. Thankfully he was transferred later.

    One more guy in my initial days of employment had tried to act smart. He wud unnecessarily talk to me about my family and my marital status etc. Same stuff always! I spoke to a colleague of his and asked him to stop harassing me and warning him that I wud complain otherwise.

    But Seriously it takes courage to speak up otherwise there are millions of ways to stop u.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience Smita. As the episode detailed, when she brushed off her boss and stopped going to his cabin, her articles started getting rejected. She had been having no such trouble till then. When she approached the higher authority questioning why that was happening and also informing him about sexual harassment, she was told to work out a middle path with her boss. So, I guess she really did not have much choice. Perhaps the perp was very sure that he could get away with this as he had done in the past with other women who had quit under his constant harassment. I am glad that you could ward them off. One lesson surely is not to keep quiet and to confront the perpetrator.

  10. Thanks for sharing Rachna. Applaud her grit, determination and perseverance.

  11. Rahul on April 30, 2013 at 4:58 pm said:

    A very sad state of affairs that we are beset with a very cruel system and environment which does little to enhance faith in good things of life:(

  12. Can’t stop admiring her grit and determination. Anyone would have dropped of the case way in between. That’s what makes my anger soar high…why does it take ages to get justice in our damn country? Tell me one department or one place where things are fair…will check the links now..

  13. Wolves in disguise all around. I wish her good luck too!

  14. Thanks for sharing this story of determination. It takes a lot to motivate yourself for so many years. Such a sad state of affairs.

  15. Really appreciate this story, Rachna and kudos to her. However two things come to my mind.

    1. There is lot of messages floating about need for middle class to stand up for their rights. But usually standing up for rights turns into a full time crusade like this. Clearly 10 prime years of her life has devoted to this. Some random people on the streets will applaud for one day. But what next? People will forget the moment the next sensation comes up. She now has to start her life afresh unless she wants to become a full time crusader. We all live but once. So we need to take a call if we want to devote it entirely to a crusade or there are other things we want to do in life.

    2. Sexual harassment is very tricky as where will evidence come from? See there are open and shut stuff like rape where our police and legal system fail the victims blatantly. But sexual harassment has hardly any physical evidence unless the woman is very smart and carries out a sting operation. But in a normal case, it is going to happen quietly between two people. So finally for companies and courts, it is the word of one person against the other. How do they decide who is right and who is wrong? You can’t agree by default that the woman is right. If we make it will open avenues for getting away with genuine non performance (again most intellectual jobs, definition of performance is subjective and can not always be expressed in metrics) using threat of a sexual harassment suit. This will make bosses nervous about taking on women in their teams for fear of being saddled with a non performer and will ultimately lead to discrimination against women. Even currently I have seen people feeling fidgety about hiring women in the team for the fear of what effect they will have on the team dynamics.

    • Such an insightful comment, The Fool and I couldn’t agree with you more. The points you raise are worthy of consideration. 1. Yes, why should a person sacrifice her life and health to pursue something that is just and right. While it rankles that a powerful media house prefers to side with a perpetrator, what would a person in her place have done? I think she embarked upon it not to be a crusader but to stand up for what was right. She did not know what she was getting into when she started but she definitely was stronger than most of us. Even if we try to put this incident behind us, let us assume, who is to say what psychological impact it would have on her. Would the murky details keep haunting her? Would she be at peace with herself for giving in? Difficult questions to answer. Yes, we all take a call depending upon our circumstances. But my grouse is with the legal system, with the police and machinery that make a common person give up. And, perhaps the legal system does not touch you today but who knows what tomorrow holds. I guess, when such cases come in the limelight and people support them collectively, laws change. Look at how Workplace sexual harassment law came into being. Now the process of filing a sexual harassment complaint is easier and time bound in corporates. I believe change can only come if we try to do something. Of course, are we interested in putting our life on hold for that would vary from individual to individual.
      2. And yes, sexual harassment cases are dicey. One cannot assume that a woman is always right, surely. In this case, her boss had a history of sexual harassment of women subordinates. As the episode showed, many women under him had quit but none had filed a complaint. In her case, her boss openly touched her in front of other colleagues on multiple occasions. So, her case was open and shut in that sense as many colleagues had seen it. As a matter of fact, she raised it with two male colleagues who egged her on to not let it go and to take this man on. It is another thing that the media house threatened the employees into silence. These two colleagues later gave statements to the police. An IPS officer who came on board did an individual investigation and probed into the background of this man and gave a report that pronounced him guilty. These two colleagues were later dismissed by the company. Yes, her case should have been resolved earlier but wasn’t because the company was powerful, stuck by their errant employees and used everything in its means to subdue her and subvert the legal process. Now each case is different. And sometimes like you pointed out, it could be a first time offense and it is just a woman’s word against a man’s. In that situation it may get tricky. And an investigation needs to be carried out. Perhaps the boss could be changed. And it would be very sad if people adopt policies of not employing women instead of improving their own procedures. Every company must strive to offer equal working environment for both men and women.

      • ddeepa on May 1, 2013 at 7:03 pm said:

        🙁 It makes me sad to read this post, yet knowing in my heart that this is just one case of many. I do agree with TF’s point though – what she has done requires a humongous amount of grit and determination, the will to keep going despite all odds. 🙁 How many women can really do that? 🙁 And yet, that is what gives ammunition to such pervs who know that people will eventually give up. Somehow this seems to be the story of our century. Be it fight against corruption, crimes against women – protests and standing up and fighting for rights start strong but lose momentum along the way – I don’t know if I can blame them either – everyone’s got lives to go back to – jobs to go to, mouths to feed. And that is precisely what the law and enforcement and our governing systems bank on 🙁 We feed them the power and the callousness. Sigh. As far as what Rina has done, her effort is commendable. Respect!

        • It is a vicious cycle alright! The perpetrator knows he can get away with it and also is emboldened to repeat his behavior. It is a sick state of affairs :(.

  16. There we go.Rachna,I have always maintained that women have to and must stand up for themselves.There is no point crying over being branded weaker sex.
    This lady has proved the point.
    Salutes

    • True Chowlaji! But she couldn’t have done it without her husband’s support either or those of her male colleagues who gave testimonies in her favor. As a society, we need to stand up for one another irrespective of gender.

  17. Am inpressed with her grit and determination. Under our present system, these people could make her life miserable for 9 whole years. And for them to make counter cases in two different cities is rotten. Can she not ask for them to be dropped in view of her vindication in this case or, atleast. transferred to one city?

    • KayEm Our present legal system does not give us a choice or keeps our inconvenience in mind. I don’t think transfer of cases is allowed. Yes, it is distressing that she had to go through so much trouble and her troubles are not over as yet.

  18. She is great! And libel? How about a case for mental agony from her side. Shame on all those people.

    • I agree Saru! But once you have battled our legal system with its humongous delays, you know better to stay away from it altogether. It is only the high and mighty who use the courts to their advantage not the common man/woman.

  19. Any person would have given up long time back, so kudos to her to keep going.
    At the same time it says a lot about how our ‘system’ works. 9 years? And can winning the case take away all the mental torture she went through?
    As much as I am happy to read about the lady, I am equally distressed at the way she was treated and the way it took so long for justice to be delivered.

    • Totally agree with everything you say, Amit! But the laws have changed these days about sexual harassment. Hopefully others will not need to go through what she went.

  20. How do I miss your posts? Do you post only on FB or hv I missed them in Indiblogger too, where I normally follow posts? Lost such a chance for pontificating in the comments 🙂

    The point The Fool raised about making these things a life-long crusade arises directly out of the tardiness of the legal system.

    I have always had this issue with Indian journalism. While they act holier-than-thou with the rest of the world they are not above misusing the power of the press themselves. I have head instances of the Press challenging and taking on reputed institutions and running a series of news items blackening the reputation of that institution. If the Press Council’s self-regulation does not even extend to investigating this sort of self-serving ‘news’ particularly when it is carried only on their own medium and in public, then where is the question of relying on self-regulation when they exercise their powers sub rosa. This has made me extremely cynical about the role of the Press – the so-called Fourth Estate – as a watchdog for the performance of the democracy. When it suits them they seem to act as bad if not worse than the politicians they vilify.

    Kudos to the brave lady for fighting on despite the fact that it has cost her a decade of her life and untold misery.

    • I do put them on Indiblogger and social media. But you can subscribe to feed via email. That is how I get your posts delivered to my inbox :). And you hit the nail on the head, Suresh about the press. Yes, they misuse their power and influence and do everything that you have mentioned. I am feel cynical about them. As for Rina, she is a hero. She fought a mighty institution and a tardy judicial system and emerged triumphant.

  21. Hats off to her for fighting on in spite of the challenges she faced. I don’t know if I could have fought on so spiritedly.
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  22. I have not checked out the links you have posted, but I will. It is very very sad to read how people discourage someone who fights against harassment. That really angers me. i really admire people who fight against all odds and Rina Mukharjee is no exception.
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    • I completely agree, Shail! The judicial system, the society, sometimes the family pull you back because the battle is just so difficult. In all my interaction with Rina, I really saluted her spirit to fight and fight on despite hardships. Her tale is inspirational and also a very sad commentary on our system. Thanks for reading!

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