Posts Tagged ‘Indian Media’

Picture taken from the internet

Picture taken from the internet

I had been married for five years then and I had gone for a job interview in a magazine. After checking my CV, the editor (lady) asked me about my capacity to handle the heavy workload in an understaffed department, asked me about my willingness to stay late on most evenings, and asked me if I was available on weekends. Then the editor shot a question for which I was not really prepared.

“Are you planning to get pregnant soon?” she asked. I was tongue-tied for a moment. I wanted to tell her this was a personal question and had no relevance to the interview. But instead I chose a diplomatic path because I knew she wanted to hear a “no”. I laughed and said, “I am extremely ambitious.” (Although personally I believe most ambitious and successful women are great mothers too, but the answer satisfied her.)

The Editor smiled. But later I thought to myself if after joining I had got pregnant in three months would she have terminated my contract?

But that is exactly what happened to a reporter working in a reputed news channel in Mumbai. This piece of news published in the website meant for media professionals, The Hoot, caught my attention recently. It reported that a lady reporter working in a reputed news channel in India was handed the termination letter when she got pregnant.

Why she moved court

The company said that she was asked to leave her job because she was underperforming but she moved court saying that the real reason for termination was her pregnancy. She questioned the company that for the two years she was in the job she had got extremely good appraisals, how come she became an underperformer the moment she informed her boss about her pregnancy?

In an interim order the judge in a labour court in Mumbai has upheld the fact that an unfair labour practice has taken place and has ordered her re-instatement.

For details of the case go to The Hoot

Pregnancy discrimination is rampant

I really appreciate the guts of this journalist, who moved court and is fighting for her rights. I think this is a landmark judgment in a country where many women are forced to leave their jobs because of pregnancy and are often denied a pay hike or promotion when they have a baby. Pregnancy discrimination is something that is rampant around the world the only difference is women in the West are fighting it – in the US more than 3000 pregnancy discrimination cases were filed in 2012 and in UK steps are being taken by the government to stop discrimination– but in India women are still shoving the issue under the carpet.

Sexual harassment that women face in the workplace might be a more serious issue that is addressed these days but discrimination because of pregnancy and child birth is an equally serious issue that people rarely talk about.

Women professionals talk their mind

I asked women from different professions if they had faced any problems from their bosses or management during and post pregnancy. A few said that they had extremely supportive colleagues and management and never had any problems but some said they have themselves dealt with discrimination because of pregnancy and many said they have seen others facing it.

Here is what they said:

A lady doctor: Pregnancy discrimination is common even in the medical profession when men pass comments like “oh she will get light duties now that she is pregnant.” One has to either ignore or challenge these stereotyping.

An IT professional: Though I worked for eight months that year, carried the project on my shoulder and only then went on maternity leave I got a low performance band as my assessor said I had not worked for four months. This was eight years back, since then policies have changed. But IT as a whole is not sympathetic or encouraging towards women going into pregnancy or women with small children.

A risk management expert: I have seen women losing promotions and raises because of their pregnancy. We have a Women’s Council in our company through which we try to push for better rights for women. But most often the person who is pregnant does not raise her voice for fear of losing her job or ruining her future chances. When a woman gets pregnant or has a baby the common perception is they can’t stay late, they have to rush off for doc appointments. After child birth they need to stay home if the maid does not come or the daycare is closed or the child is ill. They can’t take late night calls as the baby needs attention…so on and so forth.

A journalist: When I was pregnant I worked doubly hard so that no one could raise a finger at me. But I wish my company had flexible timings and work-from-home opportunities then I could have continued in my job. When my daughter was three I left my full-time job because I felt I was spending all my time in office and giving her very little time.

An Indian media person based in the US: I got my promotion when I was pregnant. After I had a baby, I was still rated for above target performance and got my bonus. But I wish we had longer maternity leave which is usually between six and eight weeks and one joins back after the doctor gives a fitness certificate. I have to travel in my job but I did not travel for a year after my daughter was born. And when I started travelling I took my daughter and even family along because I was still nursing and my company was perfectly okay with that.

A banker: When I was pregnant I got my raise. I was very lucky to have extremely understanding and supportive colleagues. They made all the difference.

 

Advertisements

sexual harassment

Our Editor-In-Chief was in town from Mumbai and he had thrown a party at a city disco in Kolkata, something he always did when he was down and something we all looked forward to. I was in a bit of a hurry to leave because of some pressing responsibility back home and when I went to say bye to him, he said, “Why are you leaving so early?” I gave my reasons. Then he said, “But there will be transfer.”

I froze. I thought now it’s happening to me too, another whimsical editor threatening me with transfer if I did not stay on and dance with him.

Looking at my anxious face he looked puzzled. “Why are you looking so worried? There will be transport to take you home.”

I heaved a sigh of relief – he meant transport then and not transfer. He was trying to be genuinely nice but I think I can’t be blamed for presuming what he said. From the day I joined the Indian media as a trainee journalist I have been fed stories of brilliant editors who were equally talented womanizers. Editors who would unleash their libido in the company corridors, on the office couch, in the lifts, at parties and on working tours. Some accounts sounded realistic, some grossly exaggerated, and some figments of imagination, but like mothers tell children fairy tales and tell them to be scared of the demons and the monsters, our seniors told us tales of predatory editors and our imagination went astray.

So much so that when I was a trainee journalist, all of us would huddle into one room and avoid the Editor-In- Chief, like the plague, every time he dropped into town. Why? Because he had a reputation with women, that walked into a room long before he did. We would even discuss what we would do if he asked one of us to visit him in his hotel room. (Apparently that was his way of making a pass at women journalists and that’s what once again our seniors had told us.) At that point our unanimous decision was: we would obviously leave the job immediately.

Nothing like that ever happened. He didn’t even give us a second look when he rebuked us at the department meetings for all the wrong headlines. Then he walked off in a huff to lunch with our immediate boss, the prettiest woman I have ever met.

So were the stories we heard about him true? I don’t know. Or was our pretty boss the buffer that kept him from turning his attention to us? I don’t know either. But this much I know that we quickly put aside our unwarranted fears. Years later I met a journalist, much senior to me, and I was telling her this story with a laugh, she startled me with her confession. She said she had actually gone to meet him in his hotel room while working as a trainee journalist. (Her account is in my post tomorrow.)

As I gained experience in journalism I realised editors do hit on women, more precisely take their chances with them. It is the most common thing in the newsroom. Some women reciprocate, often looking at it as a good opportunity to go up the ladder, some don’t. But what is incredible is the shockwaves that Tarun Tejpal is sending down the spine of the media people. Isn’t this something we have always known? What has Tejpal suddenly done that has shaken us all? Aren’t we used to discussing stories like this over coffee right there in the office cafeteria? Is it shocking now because this story has spilled over from the cafeteria to the common man’s sitting room?

There is a pattern to the whole thing. Most often the relationships are consensual and when it is not, the woman journalist handles it in her own way. When she can’t, she leaves the job. But sometimes she does complain. It is always dealt with “amicably” and yes, Vishakha (Judgement) is kept out of the door consciously. After it has been dealt with, the woman journalist inevitably finds it tough to carry on in the job and resigns. But I have also heard of editors losing their jobs because there had been too many complaints against them. Also, as a male ex-colleague said, he has seen a couple of cases of false charges. Whatever the situation, it is always an “internal issue”. The only person to have had the guts to move court and fight a case for 10 long years is journalist Rina Mukherji.

Journalist Rina Mukherji moved court against her employer and fought her case for 10 long years

Journalist Rina Mukherji moved court against her employer and fought her case for 10 long years

Personally I have faced harassment too. I have to admit that no one has ever made any overt suggestion but the subtle hints were enough and in one job I have even lost a promotion because I failed to keep the boss “happy”. I never complained to higher authorities because I always felt, apart from making the gossip mills go on an overdrive, it would do nothing for me. There was also the chance of being labeled “the girl who sc***** her boss’ happiness” and my chances of finding another job would have been remote, in an industry where “news” travels fast.

And what would I have complained about, that my boss asks me out for a drink every day? What’s wrong with that? Because I didn’t go, I didn’t get a promotion. Come on, you are not good enough. My boss wants to walk into every party with me. Why, can’t a boss go to a party with a colleague? He often insists on having dinner from my plate at the party. Umm…what does that have to do with sexual harassment?

So in the end I have handled it my own way by sometimes wriggling out of a situation, by putting my foot down or by taking the help of supportive colleagues. In this regard I have to admit that it’s because of sensitive colleagues and some nice, caring, supportive senior people and editors (both men and women) women journalists are thriving in the industry. I remember there was an editor who was not even my boss but whenever I travelled with him in the office car, late in the night, he would step out of the car when I reached home. He stood in front of the gate till I had stepped in and locked it behind me. He got back to the car only after ensuring I was safe.

Sadly these amazing people will never make the headlines for all the good reasons, the Tejpals will. But instead of resorting to Tejpal-bashing (that his closest friends from the circuit are doing and behaving as if they never knew this side of him) and expressing well-rehearsed “shock” and “disbelief” at a fellow journalist’s folly, shouldn’t they be taking a closer look at their own lifts? You never know what’s lurking there.

(I have spoken to 10 journalists, all of whom are currently holding senior positions in different organizations. They have jotted down their personal experiences of sexual harassment which I have published in Part II.)

Check another post about Indian media:

At 23 when I joined journalism no one told me…