It started with an anonymous blog on Medium.com. Within a week, it went viral, ironically the same way the accused built his company. There were signs it would be brushed under the carpet – the girl’s grammar of all things was questioned – and would have been had there not been others who wrote about similar experiences. The corporate communications team made it worse by denying the existence of the girl in a thoughtless statement. Despite the outrage, quite some time passed by before a FIR would be filed. Last heard the accused had applied for and received bail. Soon after sexual harassment cases were filed against Pinstorm founder Mahesh Murthy and Scoop Whoop founder Suparn Pandey. Some of the allegations on Mahesh Murthy go back more than a decade. While these are start-ups, there’s no reason to believe that the situation is any better in older and bigger corporates with thousands of employees. With stricter hierarchies and skewed gender ratios, it could be even tougher for women to report their seniors.
Almost immediately after TVF accusations, the discourse veered in two diametrically opposite directions. One was the open and much-needed conversation about how poorly sexual harassment cases are dealt with in corporates, and how it creates of the vicious circle of survivors not finding the courage to report transgressions.
The other conversation was carried out in hushed tones by mostly men, in positions of power or not, who saw these cases as overreactions and, in some cases, a threat to themselves. A lot of those conversations were centred around refrains like, So what if he said it, it’s not like he did anything, or the worse if this is harassment everything is. These arguments don’t hold water once someone is put through gender sensitivity workshops of which I have heard are rare. No one gives up power and privilege quickly, and hence comes the common fear of sexual harassment being used a weapon to pull down a senior by a disgruntled employee or exacting revenge for a relationship gone sour. The fear is almost palpable, and it’s not misplaced fear. For discussion sake, let’s ignore the minuscule proportion of conspiratorial harassment cases to the deluge of unreported cases, cases poorly handled and voices silenced. It’s highly possible someone uses the sexual harassment charges for insidious purposes, and with the ubiquity of Twitter and Facebook, every complaint can turn into a social media trial soon enough besmirching reputations created over years. But far and few as it might be, it’s important to address this fear as well.
The solution to it is staring right at our faces – to have an independent, impartial and effective sexual harassment complaints cell that swiftly and decisively records and deals with these cases. If enough precedents are set in handling harassment cases deftly, all employees regardless of gender can feel safe in their work environment. As long as it takes to conclude an investigation in the majority of harassment cases, exonerating a wrongly accused employee should take lesser time and resources. Be it TVF, Scoop Whoop or Pinstorm, it was the lack of belief in the harassment cell and cavalier attitude that made the survivors had to resort to other mediums to air their stories. The fear of false allegations should not let the conversation devolve into how women can wield harassment charges as a weapon, to somehow demonise and paint women as vengeful, and derail the steps that are being taken to make the workplace safer for all genders.