A 29-year-old research analyst who accused climate scientist Rajendra K Pachauri of sexual harassment in February has resigned from her job at The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri), saying she has been treated in the “worst possible manner” at her workplace.
The incident came to light when the woman lodged an FIR against Mr Pachauri, alleging that the well-known environmentalist began harassing her soon after she joined Teri in September 2013. Mr Pachauri has been on leave from Teri and has stepped down as chairperson of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In her resignation letter, the analyst states that Teri failed to “uphold her interests as an employee”.
The incident suggests that in addition to taking stringent action against unwelcome acts that amount to sexual harassment, organisations must also be alert to the emergence of a hostile environment in general, and in particular after a complaint has been filed, and counter it through quick coordination with the authorities.
Employers have an obligation to create the kind of workplace that should not need an act of extraordinary bravery to report an offence. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 makes it mandatory for offices and work places to have an anti-sexual harassment policy that includes an internal redress mechanism — and the formation of a committee to file annual reports on the issue with the government.
The Act indicates that a hostile work environment in connection with an alleged offence constitutes sexual harassment. Most organisations follow norms on paper but there’s a need to ensure that pursuing justice does not threaten a woman’s career.
Employers can begin by spreading awareness about the law among employees, which will improve women’s sense of security and embolden them to report offences at workplaces.
The resignation of the Teri employee is dispiriting, especially when more and more women are stepping out for work. A speedy prosecution of high-profile cases is important for the purpose of deterring offenders.
Failure to do so will only serve to discourage millions of working women in India at a point when their full participation in the economy is essential.