With just 3 cases a year related to harassment of women at workplaces reported in Kashmir, we are a proud lot. But one look beyond numbers and a rotten world comes to life. Muntaha Hafizi talks to some of the victims to break the silence
With a stately personality and a cemented look, the senior female officer in her fleeting steps, moves to her cabin, and all the victimized women who were in a lurk from past few minutes, follow her quietly. As she sits down to pin her ears to the stories of violence, separation and abuse, her two female guards, rush all extra people to the lobby, to make way for them consecutively.
Gulshan Akhtar is in-charge of women’s police station in Srinagar. A centre that records women issues, and deals with the crimes pertaining to them. In her spacious office, the files lie orderly, and inside the files, loose papers lie chocked with the cases of domestic violence, women criminal cases, marital disputes, and other similar state of affairs. While there’s an official record of everything, there’s an issue that remains unrecorded. These are the cases of work place violence on women.
“Women often fear to register the cases officially but unofficially I do receive a number of cases concerning women who have either been harassed or abused at their work place,” says Gulshan Akhtar.
Further, she refuses to talk about it.
Part of the Job?
Apart from OPD, that remains jam packed in most of the hospitals, there are corridors isolated, and inaccessible to a large number of people. With more than 20 calm rooms in a single corridor, and more than 3 female doctors in each room, apparently, so secure and peaceful, multiple cases of violence and abuse unfurl.
Nargis Khan, 29, one of the senior doctors at a hospital in Srinagar, walks down the corridor, to enter her lab to scan a test. Nargis has been working at the hospital since last 6 years, and is currently doing her senior residency from the institute. Her appearance is ritzy, and her tone is bold.
She is someone who’s usually stalked and teased by her colleagues. “We had a new guy posted in the department and it was once that I was standing in the corridor with one of my friends. We were discussing something and there was nobody walking through. It was a big space, and he could have easily gone past me, but he just came and pushed me inappropriately,” says Nargis, following an intrepid tone. “I felt embarrassed, and I instantly went to the HoD to report the case.”
Where the fear of being spotted and criticized makes most of the women to keep from reporting, a confident woman like Nargis also had to self contest before sharing the incident openly.
“Fortunately I had someone to corroborate my story; otherwise I would have definitely thought ten-times more before going to the HoD. The guy could have put it on me, like most of the people do. Yehi aisi hogi, isine kuch kia hoga (She is to be blamed only; she is like that),” says Nargis in a kind of too obvious expression.
Women like Nargis, suffer such harassment almost every day, with no proper solution to the problem.
“At such places, it’s like common. It seems like to be part and parcel of the job,” expresses Nargis in a helpless tone.
Apart from stalking, and physical abuse, there are cases where women are harassed because of the way they dress. Nahida, a 26-year-old doctor, who is a Delhi return, vents out her feelings.
“I have been harassed a multiple times here, both physically as well as emotionally. I don’t know how it works here in Kashmir, but somewhere I feel what men think is that, acha isne jeans pehni hai, ye badi fast forward hogi! (Oh, she is wearing jeans. She must be fast forward)” says, Nahida, with delicate girlish expressions. “And by having such thinking, they think it gives them a license to harass a woman.”
Insecure and Vulnerable
According to few of the interns at one of the district hospitals outside Srinagar, there are doctors who tend to create a hostile environment for them, distressing them every now and then.
“I had a year-long internship here at this hospital. It was pathetic here. One of the senior doctors interfered in everything that I used to do. It made me feel insecure and vulnerable all the time,” says Nusrat, a 24-year-old student of medicine.
There are other instances where married doctors approach interns for marriage, and torture them mentally.
“A married doctor at the paediatric department approached me to marry him. This was mental violence that was inflicted upon me all the time. I skipped his classes and I never dared to go to the ward alone,” says Manal, a 24-year-old.
Even at places with large open spaces, and professionally cabined sections, women complaint of harassment either by their clients, or their bosses.
Girls like Hinna, a reticent 25-year-old business sales officer, often find it depressing to go on with a job that involves regular public dealing.
“I am in sales sector, so meeting new customers is part of my job. There have been instances, where I was frustrated because of some of the clients. Few of my clients literally asked me for physical favours in return of a policy,” says Hinna, in a hushed up tone. “Even sometimes they offer you money, and some girls fall prey to it. It happens.”
Besides, places such as media outlets that advocate following a maxim of “public service” end up being one of the most undesirable places for a woman to work.
“I will help you and I will guide you. Just that you have to spend some private time with me, that’s what one of the editors told me,” says Rufaida, a 24-year-old journalist.
“Thereafter, I was harassed verbally as well as by non-verbal actions, leaving no choice for me but to leave the job,” says Rufaida. She further expresses her views in an agitated tone, “It feels humiliating to be living in a society where women are gauged on the way they dress, or walk. It’s her life, her body, and I believe no one has the right to cast a finger on a woman’s dignity and honour.”
Threat to Employment
In their quest to intimidate and suppress women at their work places men continue to stoop to unimaginable lows.
“After few days of my joining as a back end manager, my boss started to harass me. He used to sit next to me making derogatory remarks, on my appearance, and all. I retaliated, and once I did that. All he told me was, ‘tum jaisi ladki kabhi aage nahi jaati’,” says, Qurat-ul-ain, a 22-year-old.
There are young women who work due to an underprivileged economic status, and fear to lose their job at any cost.
Twenty-one-year old Afreen, who worked in a well reputed company since her college days, expresses how her boss intimidated her with threats on her employment status.
“I used to work at a company where we used to have individual reviews, once my boss held my hand and tried to harass me. Then he threatened me by telling me that he would terminate me. It was not possible for me to leave the job. All I could do was to be cautious all the time,” says Afreen.
In Garb of Morality
A hippie and happy-go-lucky girl, Faiqa had no other alternative but to don an Abaya to save herself from harassment and humiliation.
Faiqa talks about her “simple job” at a BPO in Srinagar.
“It’s very embarrassing and uncomfortable to work at such a place where you are regularly stalked, followed, and harassed. Passing nasty comments, whistling, passing by your side deliberately is like every day job here,” says Faiqa, a 26 year old. “Even you can’t imagine how your phone numbers are misused at such a place.”
Faiqa started to cover thinking that dress was the reason of her harassment. But she was wrong. “It was same even when I used to put on jeans and when I am completely covered,” says Faiqa. “What surprises me is how our society tends to legitimate the violence on women by saying lagan kya che, karnas na tang (look what she wears. She will be teased!),” says Faiqa, in a gross tone.
Labelled and Marginalised
Women at work places are not only harassed, but labelled as well. Nurses are the worst victims of assault and violence acts, either committed by senior doctors or co-workers.
Salma, 42, has been working at a medical institute since last 15 years. She hates to be addressed as ‘nurse’. She hates to do a job that has been ‘labelled’ by the society. It makes her feel defenceless, and marginalised.
“I like to be addressed as ‘sister’. There’s other way people think of a ‘nurse’,” says Salma helplessly.
Bedside getting categorized, women who refuse to be treated unequally by their male counterparts are often cornered.
“My boss withheld my two month’s salary, assuring me to release it next month. But even after three months he didn’t give me anything and it led to a clash,” says Insha, a 22-year-old bank employee. “After the clash he started verbally abusing me, insulting me in front of everybody. He created such an environment where eventually the entire system turned against me.”
Insha, who is deprived of a proper status at her work place, reveals an unfortunate incident with one of her colleagues, “We had a circle head, who tried to assault one of my colleagues sexually. The girl was left in panic, and trauma. No one knew about the case, but finally the girl dared to complain it to our HR, and within few weeks, he was terminated.”
Insha expresses her wish to have a women’s complaint cell where girls could register their complaints, being anonymous.
Thirty-four-year old Naseema, assistant professor at a medical college in Srinagar, reveals how men tried to approach her, despite of her being married. “People tried to suppress me as well, but it didn’t happen. I was mentally strong to resist that,” she laughs and says, “They knew I would give it back.”
Naseema talks about the problems pertaining to the dilemma of reporting the issues.
“This is a men’s world, where a woman is treated like she has no right to talk, and no right to express, a woman fears to report the case,” claims Naseema. “Even if someone tries to report the case, more than helped, she’s framed and talked about. She’s stereotyped. The problem is not solved but aggravated,” says Naseema.
What Law Says
The guidelines mentioned in “The sexual harassment of women at work place (Prevention, prohibition, redressal) act, 2013” says that an in-house committee should be installed at each work place, to curb any sort of harassment on a woman reconciled after a proper inquiry is yet to be enacted in Kashmir.
“Only 2 to 3 cases of women harassment at work places come to us in a year, and none of them has been proven as such,” says one of the officials from J&K women’s commission, quite uninterestingly.
Names of the victims have been changed