The government may have tightened laws against sexual harassment at the workplace, but not much has changed for the victims, as clearly demonstrated by The Energy Research Institute (TERI) recently retaining former institute chief R K Pachauri, who stands accused of sexually harassing and stalking a colleague. The complainant has hit out at the administration with an open letter saying the news made her skin crawl.
Well, it would. After the complaint was lodged last year, an internal inquiry found Pachauri guilty of misconduct. Despite that, TERI promoted Pachauri to the newly created post of executive vice-chairman. The victim, on the other hand, paid a huge price for complaining, from having no earnings for a while, to finding zero support from the organisation as her dignity was shredded.
Though there has been a flurry of posts on social media condemning Pachauri’s promotion, the bigger picture is still bleak. Sexual harassment victims face huge challenges if they dare to complain, and it takes a considerable support system and tremendous courage to embark upon this battle in the knowledge that it will be a long and arduous one that could eventually end in defeat.
This promotion doesn’t help — it sends the message that sexual harassment is still taken lightly in this country and that perpetrators will eventually go scot-free. A huge setback like this, that too in such a high-profile case, will act as a deterrent for victims everywhere, especially those who are facing problems at work. It shows that the recent so-called changes to help women are just cosmetic. The ground reality is that the dice, even now, are stacked against those who complain, rather than those who perpetuate the crime.
All the committees and investigations into harassment are tokenisms, if those accused and not completely cleared are promoted within the organisation itself. Once there is a complaint, ensure transparency and fairness. Above all, the guilty must be unequivocally punished.