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Sexual Harassment in Work Places - Womens' Day Clebrations

My Experiences in State Bank Of India (SBI)
(Click here to see the Original posting on Google+ )

At 45 years of age, having been in a full time job with State Bank of India (SBI) in the past and presently being a full time home maker – I feel that I too should pen a few of my experiences and thoughts on this Women’s Day. Because of my age advantage I can be a bit open on certain issues which many young would feel shy to discuss openly. I worked in Mumbai, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh circles. The experience is same in all the circles.

In 1991, I reported for job in a bank branch, a place which was 70 Km from my residence. Those days are still fresh in memory. Posted to saving bank and current account desks, we used to handle manual ledgers. They were heavy, and need to be handled manually for posting. It was not an easy job. We were to depend on messengers to assist us to handle those binders. As usual these messengers never used to be present in the vicinity. Per force, we only had to stand and pull the ledger for posting and carry them to the passing officers table for passing. It was a strenuous manual job and we ladies preferred to stand all through the banking hours to handle the rush.
The fear of being terminated during probation ensured that we remain timid and subdued to handle and carry those binders. Irrespective of the monthly menses periods or other-wise, we had to go through the ordeal. During this ordeal, senior male colleagues seated behind us in the branch start adoring our figures from behind and discuss about our menstrual cycles which is necessitating us to visit the toilets so often. We had to pretend deaf to these conversations. Does it carry any sense when Women’s day celebrations are organized by such persons?

Leaving the child at the crèche in the morning used to be a painful exercise. Being aware that he is hardly 18 months, while dropping him at the care centre, with a stern face I used to tell the child, you are grown-up and should be decent. His innocent face literally, haunted me all through the day. To add punch to these feelings, on reaching office colleagues used to say DISK MADAM has come, where DISK means Double Income Single Kid. Hardly could I find very few colleagues who would really appreciate the problems of a female colleague. Her pay packet & LFC is the reference point for every economic and monetary related discussion.  The pleasures and comforts DISK MADAM   & her family sacrifices are never reckoned, because jealousy opaque’s the wisdom. It makes me laugh when speaker after speaker on Womens Day talk how women are treated on par with men in the bank. It’s an equality of pay-packets they are referring to, not an equality of working environment.

My upbringing forces me to address every one with respect. Invariably I’m used to address all males with respect "Ji", especially the seniors as “SIR”. In return when I insisted that I should be addressed as “MADAM”, it became an issue at all my work places. To teach me a hard lesson, my own male colleagues instigated a few customers (who are in their past fifties) to call me “AUNTY”, when I’m hardly twenty-five. My protest with these customers to call me “MADAM” but not “AUNTY” becomes a joke. This rouge gang has the tacit approval of the Branch Manager too. Does it carry any sense when Women’s day celebrations are organized by such persons?

A senior officer in administrative office has a perversion to park his scooter every day along the side of my scooter touching it. Not without the assistance of the guards I could pull out my Kinetic Honda scooter. It used to be a tedious job every day. When confronted he has the audacity to say “I just admire a rose. I don’t touch it physically. What’s wrong if at-least my scooter touches your scooter”. If such officers send out instructions to all branches to celebrate Womens’ Day, does it carry any sense?
A very senior officer in the Administration obliquely seeks sexual gratification to assist in inter-circle transfers. When he presides over the Womens Day celebrations what does it convey?

People familiar with SBI working can easily understand what is "Tranfer Scroll" in OAD, which I handled for some time during an annual closing. Closing figures from all over the circle start pouring in before 31 March, which need to be balanced before reporting to Central Office. While struggling to balance, our AGM, Shri A. Venkat Rao enquired about the progress. As a seasoned banker he too wanted to help me and asked me to sit in his chamber and we both were struggling to balance it. In between I came out to collect an earser, when an officer who is one rank below him with a glee on his face enquired "Madam, behind the closed door, how is the operation going on". Taken aback, I returned to report Shri Rao and indicated that I prefer to struggle on my own to balance the scroll. He was stunned with his deputy's remark and said "OK Madam, Sorry".  The deputy always went scot free because he was a leader. When such leader's from Union and Associations share the dais on Womens' Day and speak about the efforts made by them to secure safety of women employees, how truthful is it?

My last posting was to a branch attached to a premier educational institution. The branch was located within their campus and relied on the institute’s infrastructure, including toilets. During vacations the taps used go dry and ladies too had to get into to the bushes in a remote corner for natures call or hold their bladder full for the entire day. What meaning does it have to celebrate Womens’ Day through a deposit drive to woo deposits from women on campus, when we can’t build a toilet for lady colleagues?

Having worked in many SBI’s branches and Administrative offices, I have met many unique specimen in my 15 years and have many dirty instances to narrate. It’s rare to find people like Shri Sanjay Sahay, Shri Lingaraj Mahapatra, Shri A Venkat Rao etc who recognized the role of a woman as depicted in the picture below and showed respect to all at work places. Surely such people have respect for their women back at home too and they needn’t celebrate Women’s day because they have warmth and respect at heart all through for women. Celebration by others males hardly matters, because for them woman is a sex object.

My above narration paints as if entire bank staff is rotten. No the issue is 95% of them are passive onlookers, 4% are rogues and hardly less than 1% has the courage to stand up and speak. When 95% don’t utter a word and rather prefer to remain friendly with 4% rouges for their selfish interests, it becomes a bad work place for a woman. My experience with SBI is one such.

The picture below highlights two roles of a woman - one that of a professional and the other of a mother. Most working women play both these roles in their everyday life. Sex, which the male always sees in a woman, is not on her agenda at all. When a lady ignores or pretends to be deaf to the loud dirty talk of her colleagues, it doesn’t mean that she likes & enjoys it passively. It’s her modesty which makes her remain silent and suffer.

Institutions are neither bad nor there is is dearth of Laws. It's we the people who constitute them and create the laws and also lack sensibilities. Therefore more than the Women’s Day celebrations, as a society we the parents should concentrate on healthy upbringing of our children so that in later years our daughters and daughter-in-laws can work with dignity in offices.

Every day should be day where a woman can live with dignity. Showering affection on women should not be confined to a single day in a year.

Notable comments & feed back from the Posts on Google+ & Facebook

burhan b
+Gayatri Vantillu , it's not too late to report these sustained deliberate misdemeanors. Since you are out of the organisation, not much to fear. Even if those have retired, getting an official sincere apology would set right many remnants in current times, possible happening even now.

Gayatri Vantillu
As Gandhiji said "Hate the crime not the Criminal". Its not difficult to name the tormentors. A sorry from them under fear of law,  doesn't really solve the problem. The issue is the peoples' upbringing and the value system on which this society is resting. Therefore I prefer to take the names of those 1% of the society who uphold these values and forget my tormentors. In Mahabharata we often here the word "Kshama" which means forget and forgive.

I'm for sure a few would be retired and would be at different stages in their lives. Emphasis is for a change for betterment not for a SORRY. My post should be a pointer for the future generation to improve upon

Subhrangshu Sekhar Manna
Nice article indeed. Only a small comment -- a large part, if not all of the behavior of the office colleagues come under "Sexual Harassment" a serious offense in the eyes of law -- theoretically of course.

Gayatri Vantillu
True what you said after Vishakha Judgement gave the outline of what is sexual harrasment


Great article, Gayatri Garu - I really appreciate your thoughts on this subject and completely agree with you. 

Cultures needs to change systemically in order to make to make the world a safer place for women - changing the laws and enforcing these laws are only one small part of this. And I agree that in order to effect cultural change, we need individuals to speak out like you have.