Do we have the “luxury” of ignorance with workplace sexual harassment?

It was another busy Tuesday at work. Between the could-be impact of GST and Trump’s “tyranny”, I’m sure the newsroom was buzzing with action — the newsroom I used to belong to until someone thought it was better for the Social Media desk to be a separate entity. As I sat alone in this new lonely, dingy office away from all the action I was missing, my new boss calls for me from his oh-so-huge cabin. And the first thing he sees, are my breasts.

Discomfort descended. How is someone supposed to react in this situation? There’s nobody witness to this to support my claim if I raised an alarm. Moreover, what haunts me is, does this even qualify as harassment? As I stand there uncomfortably, he asks about news, work, and what not with his eyes wandering to my chest every now and then. Quickly getting up, I tell him I have something breaking to tweet out and run out of the cabin.

I’m a woman in India. I’m used to the staring. Sadly, aren’t we all? It doesn’t even bother us anymore when on the streets! Well, as long as he doesn’t do anything physical to you, why bother? Right? Because that’s how much of a commonality it has become. But, do we have the same “luxury” when it comes to a workplace? The place where you spend most of your day, where you meet the same person every single day, where the person knows when you come in and go out.

If you’ve stayed this far into the rant, then you should know I’m not writing this after one ‘isolated’ incident of him staring at my breasts (he has been doing that on every occasion he has seen me at work for the past one month), but after an epiphany of what I felt when I learnt he has a daughter younger than I am (I’m 25).

Last week I learnt from a colleague that he has a daughter who is preparing to go to college. Well, when I learnt that it evoked a new kind of anger, disdain, and disgust in me. How can a man do this to a woman who isn’t much older than his own daughter? I realised the problem with my thought process much later, and I’m glad I did.

Why does it matter whether he has a son or a daughter? And why should it? Did it matter that he was married? Did it matter that he was probably behaving the same way with other women colleagues of his? Although those things bothered me, why did him having a daughter anger me more? I gave it a lot of thought. It’s because it’s “culturally” impossible for such a man to behave the way he did. He’s the “ideal man” we so glorify — a married, family man, fathering a loving daughter. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? How deeply etched is it in our mind that these ideals make for the perfect man who does women no harm?

When are we changing all of this?

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Nungambakkam at night: Has Swathi changed it all for us suburban commuters?

It was 9 pm and Nungambakkam railway station was in its normal Friday night torpor of tired commuters going home, shop-keepers checking the clock and the lighting in power save mode.

Only, this was not any other day. Earlier in the morning, this station had hit the national headlines for the gruesome murder of a 24-year-old Infosys employee, Swathi S. As I walked up to the spot where she had fallen after being hacked down by a helmeted man, I looked around to get a sense of that moment when a horror is committed amidst a placid sea of impassive faces.

But Platform 2 was back to its business of arriving and departing. The beggars were still begging, the shops were still open and functioning, people were boarding and alighting. At the spot where Swathi had lain, the cold concrete had been washed clean of the blood that had flown for two hours. There was no barricade to momentarily commemorate the spot, not even a deferential muffling of voices. Those who didn’t know, trod over the spot, eyes trained only on the incoming 9.20.

Had this been the scene too when the man cut her down and bystanders reportedly halted their stride for an instant and hurried on with their lives? Earlier that morning, I had got down at the station from the incoming 6.08 am, perhaps 20 minutes before the killing, and gone on to capture the horror on my news website. But had I been there 20 minutes later would I have done anything different?

The ones who knew this was the spot, huddled far from it and spoke in hushed tones to friends or strangers about the lack of CCTVs, the absence of Railway Police personnel and alas what had become of Chennai.

I’m a regular at Nungambakkam. I’ve been suburban commuter for seven years. Had I seen her, maybe texting by that pillar, or chatting with a colleague? Had she brushed past me sometime? Had I shared a seat with her?

In the trains going into the suburban night on Friday, the talk was obviously about Swathi, branching off into relationships, stress, family values, etc.

But how could this have happened at Nungambakkam? In my seven years as a commuter, I had taken the last train back home with just about four or five people in the carriage, but never a thought about safety. There had been a murder over on that foot-over bridge, but a 11 pm ride was never filled with dreaded prospect.

Has Swathi changed all that?