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TRUST MUST NEVER BITE THE DUST
By Neel Anil Panicker
“No Mr Krishna, that’s not enough. You need to do more. Much more than what you have done?”
The Director of ‘Coaching First’ scratched his bald head, looked across the table at the girl sitting opposite to him and wondered what else could he do or have done.”
‘But what else is there to be done, Akshara. The guilty has been punished. In fact I have slapped him with a suspension order”. I have also…’
“Cut it, Mr Director. Slapped with a suspension order! What a joke! These are mere tokenisms. Jingoism, I would say. Playing to the gallery. What you did is nothing out of the ordinary though I admit even this much is beyond someone else. But believe me, I would have been more happy if you had slapped that offender in front of everyone, the entire staff and students. So Mr Krishna, here is my resignation letter. I hate to work at an institution that does not respect its female staff, that turns a blind eye towards female sexual harassment, that allows bigoted, masochistic creeps and perverts access to students, that not just condones but as I can see now, subtly supports all such acts by brushing them under the carpet. It is a shame that you as the head of this couching institute, a temple of learning feels that enough has been done when we know, you, me, the entire staff and the students that nothing has been done except save your own goddamn asses.”
‘Wait, don’t be in a hurry. Whatever needed to be done has…’
Akshara pulled herself out of the chair, headed towards the door, and half opening it, turned around and replied, “It’s not just about me, one faculty member. It’s about the larger male mindset that is all pervasive and not just subtly encourages but also condones or at best turns a blind eye to harassment, whether in the office or outside. I haven’t said you have not done anything. But I need more. I need you to do things not in duress but to do them because you strongly believe in them. I want you to use your position of authority to take steps that would help restore my lost trust. Trust, yes, that’s the word. I am not upset that you didn’t do enough; I am simply upset that you didn’t do enough to restore my lost trust in you and your institution.”
Saying that she stepped out, the sound of her footsteps as it connected with the hard granite flooring in the hallway piercing into Mr Krishna’s ears. Long after she had left, the fifty-five-year old Director sat immobile in his chair, staring into the blank walls opposite him, totally oblivious of the ticking away of the wall clock hours.
After seemed an eternity, he got up and picked the extension phone.
‘Mr Murthy, could you come over now. And bring along Abhishek Awasthi’s file’.
‘Mr Murthy, tell me everything from the beginning. And mind you, no weather coating, no air brushing. I want the facts, stark and bare, the entire sordid saga.’
Murthy nodded his head and clearing his throat replied, “Sir, a week ago, October 13 to be precise I was in my chamber when Ms. Akshara Chauhan barged in. I could see that she was upset, her eyes were slightly swollen. It looked to me as if she were crying.
I sat her down, offered her a glass of water, and asked her what had occurred. To which she replied that …”
“Did she give a written reply? If so I want you to read out that”
‘Yes Sir. I asked her to write down a complaint and she wrote one then and there and handed me. Here it is verbatim, “To, Director, Coaching First… Sir, I wish to lodge an official complaint of sexual harassment against Mr Abhishek Awasthi, Maths Faculty Member. Today, that is October 13, 2017, at about fifteen minutes to eleven, I was in the Faculty Room, preparing notes for my first class of the day when Mr Awasthi walked in and sat beside me. Even before I could guess his intentions, he had placed his hands on my thigh. I looked up but before I could react he moved in and kissed me. I was…I was too shocked to react. It took me awhile to recover but by that time he had walked out of the room. I simply sat there and then began to cry. After some time, I composed myself and wrote out a complaint letter against Mr Awashthi.
I demand strict action against this person who has not just violated my dignity but has been constantly speaking ill of all women staff members, verbally abusing and revealing them in poor light.”
Mr Krishna got up from his chair and paced the room, his head bowed and in deep thought. After a few minutes, he turned around.
“Mr Murthy, please spell your role and position in our institution”.
A flabbergasted Murthy recovered quickly enough to utter, “ Sir, I am the HR Head and I take charge of all human relations issues”.
“If that is so, Mr Murhy, I ask you, did you take rightful charge of this issue? Did you take the necessary steps in this case and address the concerns of the aggrieved person?”
Hot beads of sweat began to form around Murthy’s brow.
“Yes, yes Sir, I immediately assured her that I would look into the allegations. After she had left, I sat down and called Mr Awasthi over. I questioned him about his conduct and sought an explanation. He seemed repentful and even apologized…”
“Called, sought, seemed,.. these are mere tokenisms. Did you constitute an inquiry, a proper one, the way it should have been conducted, Mr Murthy?”
“No, I thought since he has apologized, the matter ends”
“And did it end, Mr Murthy?”
“Unfortunately, no. The very next day, Ms Akshara again came up to me and expressed her disapproval. I showed her his apology. She seemed unsatisfied. It was then that I ordered Mr Awashthi’s suspension.”
“A one week suspension. That’s what you ordered, Mr HR Head. Do you think by doing so the matter rests, that you have done your duty, Mr Murthy? I don’t think so. Have you heard of the Supreme Court mandated Vishakha Guidelines in such cases? Do you know the protocol that needs to be followed in all such cases of complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace? I don’t think so. You seem to be woefully unaware or even if you were unaware, you chose to take sides and by doing so you have revealed your narrow minded 8th century old male chauvinistic mindset that sanctifies all such barbaric behavior. No Mr Murthy, I pity you as you have miserably failed in safeguarding and protecting the interests of women in this organization. You are dismissed with immediate effect.”
“Dear friends and colleagues,
The past week was a black spot for our organization as one of our dear colleagues was subject to what I can only term euphemistically as “inappropriate” conduct.
The shocking thing is that one of our own staff members was the culprit. Subsequent to this highly objectionable incident which I can only term as despicable and needs to be condemned in the harshest possible manner, I have not only dismissed the said person but also ensured that a systems of checks and balances are in place so that there be no repeat of any such thing.
Today, standing before you all and as head of this institution,
I bow my head in shame and take full responsibility for this ugly insultful incident.
As the Director, on behalf of the entire organization and on a personal level, I formally and in writing apologise to Ms Akshara Gupta, Verbal Faculty, for the aforesaid incident.
Moreover, I assure her and each and every staff member of this organization that
your safety, welfare, and dignity is uppermost in our minds and all efforts will be made to ensure that such an event never ever occurs.
I have dismissed Mr Abhishek Awasthi, Mathematics Faculty, the guilty in this matter, with immediate effect. Besides, a police complaint too has been lodged against him. I have also removed Mr Satya Murthy, Human Relations Head from service for his gross mishandling of this case, his covert support of Mr Awasthi, and his blatant misuse of his powers.
Moreover, I have constituted a Sexual Harassment Complaints Redressal Cell to be headed by Ms Vandana Gehlot, our senior most female staff and comprising seven other members four of whom will be women.
Once again, on behalf of the entire staff and members of this institution I expressmy sincerest regrets and apologies to Ms. Akshara.”
The entire hall stood up and clapped as the Director wrapped up his speech.
Seated in the front row, amidst several colleagues and well wishers, Vishakha’s eyes welled up.
Inside, in her heart, she felt satisfied and deep sense of fulfillment.
The words of her favourite poet Pablo Neruda resounded in her mind: “None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, yet still we go forward. Because we trust. Because we have faith.”
©neelanilpanicker2017 #reena’sexplorationchallengeweek#09 #trust #fiction #shortstory #1538words #CATology