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Monday Musings: Pune Police must probe sexual harassment case fairly

Sexual harassment at workplace can be addressed effectively only when corrective actions are taken promptly

pune Updated: Mar 12, 2018 15:03 IST
Abhay Vaidya
The Pune police, led by commissioner Rashmi Shukla does not want the media to come anywhere close to a high profile sexual harassment case that the police is investigating.
The Pune police, led by commissioner Rashmi Shukla does not want the media to come anywhere close to a high profile sexual harassment case that the police is investigating. (HT PHOTO)

The Pune police, led by commissioner Rashmi Shukla, does not want the media to come anywhere close to a high profile sexual harassment case that the police is investigating.

The police have refused to reveal the name of the managing director of a prominent steel company based in Mundhwa who was arrested and booked under the Indian Penal Code sections 354(a) (sexual harassment) and 354(d) (stalking). He was later released on bail.

Senior police inspector Anil Patrudkar, who is in charge of the case, has refused to reveal the name of the top executive in the case or share a copy of the FIR. How fair is his justification that the name of the managing director cannot be revealed “as it compromises the identity of the complainant”.

Is this a fair or a flimsy argument put forward by the Pune police? By keeping information from the public, does it not become easier for vested interests to try and manipulate the case in many ways? On the other hand, when such matters become public, there is greater pressure on the police to complete the investigations fairly and diligently.

There have been a number of sexual harassment cases investigated by police departments, at any point of time, involving prominent people, including journalists (Tarun Tejpal), environmentalists (RK Pachauri), senior executives (Phaneesh Murthy) and startup investors (Mahesh Murthy). One case involving a cricketer is currently in the news. At no point have the police departments concerned withheld the names of the accused (some of who were later convicted) on grounds that the identity of the complainant would be compromised.

In some cases, the complainants have not hesitated to voluntarily reveal their identity to ensure that justice was delivered. Therefore, the argument by Pune police that the name of the managing director cannot be revealed is at best, flippant.

The case surfaced on International Women’s Day with a news report of the managing director’s (MD) arrest on March 7. Mundhwa police said that a 33-year-old woman alleged in her complaint that the 58-year-old MD sent suggestive and lewd text messages and asked inappropriate questions, besides committing other transgressions. When questioned by Hindustan Times, the company spokesperson did not deny the police action but refused to make an official statement on grounds that the matter was under scrutiny.

In its report on March 8, the Times of India quoted the aggrieved woman as stating that she had complained to the company’s panel which looks into complaints of sexual harassment; “I also sent emails to my superiors and the company’s panel which looks at sexual harassment cases but no action was taken against the MD. The HR department has assured me that action would be taken on my complaint as per procedure. They have requested me to seek a transfer but I refused.”

What is paramount in this case is that the investigations are done fairly and thoroughly without doing injustice to any party. Sexual harassment at workplace is a hazard that is faced by many women. It can be addressed effectively only when workplaces are made safe for women and prompt and corrective measures are initiated whenever a violation takes place. The case involving the MD of a steel company is therefore significant and Pune police commissioner Rashmi Shukla needs to pay special attention to this case for reasons that are obvious.