Sexual harassment at the workplace is the worst kept dirty secret in corporate India. It happens all the time, and women privately talk about the abuse that takes place. Yet, for all the despicable patriarchic power structure in both the government and private sectors, there is hardly any institutionalised mechanism to deal with these issues.
The Vishaka Guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in 1997 are just that-- guidelines. Even if the current law on sexual harassment at the workplace has been updated to include redress mechanisms for employees affected within and without the workplace, there is not much strict implementation.
This needs to change, and fast. In light of the recent episode ofalleged attempted rape by a Delhi-based magazine editor Tarun Tejpal on his female colleague at a Goa five-star during an annual event and the subsequent outrage, there must be corrective processes put in place.
Even though the woman journalist has not pressed any charges, her email to her superior and the subsequent email by Tejpal to this deputy wherein he practically confessed to the crime, should be suo motu taken note of by law-enforcement authorities and appropriate action taken.
Thanks to social media, the emails and the criminality are out in the public domain. Therefore, any attempt to conceal or cover-up the crime -- as the Tehelka management has tried to -- must not only be discouraged but also be made party to legal action, whatever that may be. The Tehelka management must share any evidence it has at its disposal to ensure speedy justice.
The matter of filing a formal police complaint is a personal choice for the woman journalist (and by all evidence, she is not inclined to), but it would be a shot in the arm for women’s workplace rights in India if she does. There is national and international support for her, and the spotlight, even if adverse, is on Tejpal, not her.
This case, too, can be a precedent for other such affected women, who might find the courage to stand up to abuse at the workplace. If there is one silver lining in this sordid episode, it is only that.