#MeToo: Four Mumbai saleswomen transferred for reporting Peeping Tom manager

Updated: 22 November, 2018 18:50 IST | Diwakar Sharma | Mumbai

Four women employees of Sahakari Bhandar lose their jobs six months after complaining of sexual harassment by their manager, who resigned following the complaints

Accused Dhanraj Eknath Darekar
Accused Dhanraj Eknath Darekar

While the #MeToo movement has inspired women to come forward and report sexual harassment at the workplace, many are suffering the consequences for calling out harassers. Case in point: four saleswomen who worked at kiosks inside the Colaba outlet of the Sahakari Bhandar claim they were asked to stop working there, months after they complained about their Peeping Tom manager Dhanraj Eknath Darekar, who would allegedly secretly film them changing clothes.

Prior to being allegedly sacked, the women were working at the cosmetic products kiosk inside the store. Over a fortnight, several women had noticed someone secretly trying to film them while they were changing out of their work uniforms in the evening in the outlet's washroom. The Peeping Tom they were trying to scare away was Darekar. However, he would find a way to hide whenever the girls raised an alarm from inside the washroom.

Caught red-handed
On the evening of May 16, a saleswoman entered the washroom to change, and saw a cellphone camera aimed at her from the window. "I rushed to check who was doing this, and caught Darekar. I gave him one tight slap," the woman told mid-day, adding, "I called the other saleswomen on the floor and we went to the Colaba police station to register a complaint."

The women were working at the Colaba outlet of Sahakari Bhandar. Pic/Suresh KarkeraThe women were working at the Colaba outlet of Sahakari Bhandar. Pic/Suresh Karkera

She added, "Darekar smartly removed the cover of his cellphone to conceal the identity of the phone he'd aimed at me while I was changing my clothes." At the Colaba police station, cops cooperated with the victims, said another one of the four women, appreciating the cops. "A police team visited the spot and Darekar was hauled to the police station," she said. Darekar denied filming the women.

A highly-placed source at the Colaba police station said Darekar owns two cellphones and chances are very high of him having deleted the videos after he was caught and before the arrival of the police. "But this can be ascertained only after we confiscate the handsets and send them for a forensic analysis, if a case is registered," the source added.

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No FIR filed
In all, seven women approached Colaba police, and their statements were recorded on May 18. Most of them are young and had been working at the outlet for barely one or two years. While they gave their statements against Darekar, a case was not registered.

Explaining why, the third victim said, "We did not want to lose our job or want our parents to know about this horrific incident, so we preferred not to register our case." An officer from the Colaba police station said the women's statements were recorded and signed by all of them. "When they did not prefer to register the case against Darekar, they were asked to give their consent in writing stating that they do not wish to file an FIR," said an officer.

Sackings begin
Other consequences awaited Darekar - he was sacked. One of the victims claimed, "We were told by our senior managers that Darekar has been blacklisted and will not get a job anywhere in the Maharashtra circle of Sahakari Bhandar."

However, Darekar's removal was only the beginning of troubles for the women, who were then sacked one by one from July onwards. The victims said they were given silly reasons for being removed from the outlet. "The executive who replaced Darekar at the outlet prepared a list of saleswomen who had raised their voice against Darekar. When we were let go, we were told that we are chatterboxes and spend time on our mobile phones instead of helping customers. These allegations are baseless and incorrect," said
a victim.

Another victim said, "While renewing our contracts, the floor manager of Sahakari Bhandar told our agencies that they don't want us to promote products. This happened only after we raised our voice against Darekar. The floor manager did not want us to work there. They allowed different girls from our agencies to promote the products. We have been asked to work at different outlets, which are very far from our house," said another victim. The women are allegedly being sent to outlets in Virar and Thane.

Sahakari Bhandar says
When mid-day spoke to Sanjay Shette, chairman of the Sahakari Bhandar, he said that the saleswomen who complained against Darekar were not on their payroll. "These girls were hired by private agencies to promote different products at our Colaba store. After the incident came to my knowledge in May, I immediately asked Madhuri Sawant, general secretary of the Sahakari Bhandar Staff Union, to meet the girls. Sawant helped the girls approach cops, and the accused resigned thereafter. He is not working in any of our stores."

While Shette claimed Sawant helped the women, the victims said Sawant dissuaded them from filing the case. She told them that if the case is registered, they will have to make rounds of the police station and court. "We were convinced not to file an FIR," said one of the victims. The Colaba police said, "If the women want to register a case, they are open to visit us."

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First Published: 22 November, 2018 07:32 IST

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