Posts Tagged ‘sexual harassment’

sexual harassment3To give an insight into sexual harassment in the Indian media I got in touch with a number of my ex-colleagues, who are all currently well-placed in the industry to come forth with their views and personal experiences. Many said that they have never faced any kind of sexual harassment in the workplace, but have witnessed others facing it. Some men said that they have helped their female colleagues deal with harassment from the department boss and many said that they have faced harassment themselves. Some even said that certain senior people have tried to take advantage of their earlier professional relationship, long after they had stopped working together. Two ex-colleagues, one male and one female, said they have been harassed by their female bosses. A very senior male editor I was talking to yesterday told me in his entire career spanning almost 20 years, he has seen how men got transformed as they moved up the ladder and thought their higher posts also gave them the license to take their chances with women.

And while not everyone in this post has given their name, here it is then, all in their own words:

I told him he should not dare touch me again”- NUZHAT AZIZ 

In my 14 years of work experience as a journalist in Kolkata, Mumbai and now Pune, there have been several experiences which have left me disgusted and annoyed. And in most of the cases, I have managed to put an end to the harassment by putting my foot down; by putting it across very bluntly, that I do not like the advances and am uncomfortable with what is being said or done.

During my stint with a leading daily, I had to work closely with a journalist who was hired to head a business supplement. The journalist in question had a habit of touching me whenever we spoke. Whether we discussed stories or it was a casual chat, his hand would either touch mine, or he would put his arm over my shoulder or around my waist. I did feel uncomfortable on several occasions and I discussed it with my female colleague. 

One day we finished work and he asked me if I wanted to go to the club for some snacks. I agreed to go with him because I wanted to bring up this issue. While we waited for the drinks and snacks to arrive, he casually placed his hand over mine. I removed it and very sternly told him that I did not like anyone touching me. He was shocked and tried to defend himself. I repeated myself and took a cab home. The next day, he refused to talk to me and needless to add, he stopped assigning stories to me. I was perfectly fine with that.

There have been so many instances, where a male colleague has made a pass, cracked a sexist joke and commented on my vital statistics. All this is harassment. So if I were to write all of that, it would have to be compiled into a book. But I would definitely want to mention another incident, where this senior colleague would often send me text messages saying how hot he found me and later laugh it off as a joke. He would often tell us how he was in an open relationship with his wife.

He went on to hold a senior position with a foreign-based organisation. He continued messaging me with polite enquiries about my life and family and once in a while we would discuss about the media industry. In one such conversation he suggested I could get a senior position easily by sleeping around, because it was acceptable and everyone did pretty much the same. I was disgusted and offended and stopped responding to him. I unfriended him on Facebook. Sensing that I was upset, he later texted me saying that he did not mean such a thing and I was stupid enough to deduce something like that. I told him in as many words that I understood exactly what he meant and I was not keen to keep in touch.

My approach has always been take the bull by the horn, there are no two ways about it.

If I had not refused to get into the car with him he would have done something to me”- LM

There was this very senior editor, who was not only very talented, but also good looking and the no- nonsense types. We respected him immensely. When he handpicked me for a transfer to Mumbai I felt very proud and grateful. But after coming to Mumbai I lost touch with him. A few years later I bumped into him in my Mumbai office, we got talking and when he said he had nothing to do in Mumbai, I offered to take him out for dinner. We agreed to meet at a restaurant. He asked me to meet him at his hotel first. When I reached he asked me to go up his room. I wasn’t sure what to do but I went. We chatted in his room for sometime then left for the restaurant. It was a pleasant evening.

The next day he called me and asked me if I was free for dinner since he had another night in town. I didn’t think much of it especially since the previous night was really enjoyable, and hence agreed. He again asked me to meet him at his room when I reached the hotel. Once again I hesitated, but frankly, I was confused and went with the flow. This time I didn’t enjoy his company too much as he seemed to be a little tipsy. We had a light dinner and I said I had to leave because it was getting late. Very ‘casually’ he said, “you can stay back if you want.” I ignored this and just left after saying a polite goodbye.

A few months later he was in town again and called me, this time to his guest house. I was in two minds, but my gratitude for him made me decide to go. But when I reached, my instincts took over. He was already stark drunk and I refused to get inside his room. I told him we had to hurry to the restaurant because we had a reservation. Thankfully he listened. He had his chauffeur-driven company car. As soon as we entered the car, he grabbed my hand. My stomach did a somersault but I didn’t want to create a scene. My mind stopped working and I simply tried to make random conversation. All this while he was holding my hand and I was trying to withdraw it unsuccessfully. It might sound silly, but I just couldn’t think straight.  Thankfully we reached the restaurant quickly. By then he was a mess and was even unable to stand. I just managed to finish dinner and he did the most bizarre thing – he started rocking the table and in between looked at me with stoned and lustful eyes. I don’t know how I managed to get out of there without creating a scene.

I insisted I had to leave and finally walked out of the restaurant with him following me. Outside, he crossed all limits. As I called the driver to get the car, he tried to embrace me. I quickly wriggled out and stepped aside (once again trying not to create a scene). Thankfully, the driver arrived on time, and with his help, I practically shoved him inside the car.  I didn’t get in myself and I jumped into an auto rickshaw instead telling him I had to rush to another venue.

The way he was going I don’t know what would have happened if I had entered the car that night. I was actually his fan – as a junior reporter – but his behaviour was appalling. Probably, you may say I was at fault for going out with him thrice. But it did take me some time to realise that the Dr Jekyll I had known at work would turn into Mr Hyde after getting drunk.

It is possible to create a non-sexual atmosphere where predatory men are intimidated into decorum”- SURANJANA ROY BHATTACHARYA

I don’t recall a single instance of harassment, personally, between 1994-2008, the time I worked in India.

The only obnoxious person I have encountered was this person who was not my boss, but the editor of another department. Since in a newspaper office we mostly sit in an open office, you can see what’s going on in other departments. He would openly hit on the girls in that department. What struck me as brilliant was the way these women dealt with him. From a distance, it seemed to me that these young girls were capable of puncturing his ego, they patronised him and talked him down and kept him in line. I don’t know the actual dynamics, but that is what I perceived and sub consciously rejoiced.

What I am trying to say is that women can and do have ways to deal with men. I was 23 when I joined Indian Express, Bombay as a trainee. I worked night shifts with men who used to drink every night. Yet, not for a single night did I feel any discomfort. I have often thought why that was so, and the only explanation I found is – women can ‘de sex’ themselves and their environment. When you don’t recognise a man as the male of the species, when you don’t recognise his ‘aura’, that man will not have any power over you. I think it is possible for men and women to create a professional, non-sexual atmosphere where predatory men are intimidated into decorum.

My female editor would measure my derriere with her palm”- NAME WITHELD

Sexual harassment need not be physical or coming from a man. Women too can sometimes indulge in it. For example, my female editor would pass lewd comments on my derriere and offer to measure it with her palm to see if I have “put on weight”. In front of male colleagues, this would be thoroughly embarrassing. One night, on a team trip to a nearby resort, she dragged everyone out of their rooms to have a chill-out session. Then she announced to everyone: “X is not wearing a bra!” Her joke was so humiliating. Also, when I needed to take leave for a day because my then boyfriend was returning after a 4-month long trip from Europe, she said, in front of the whole department, “You can postpone your f****** by a day. I need you here at work.” Maybe it was my age that prompted her to say such stuff, thinking I was ‘too young to mind’ or it could be because she believed in the culture of ‘ragging juniors’, with or without realising she was crossing the line and humiliating me. But I mustered the courage to tell her one day that I felt insulted this way.

My friend was asked to perform oral sex”- SARAH SALVADORE

A friend of mine decided to leave journalism for good because of sexual harassment. As a young intern, when she approached her so-called ‘mentor’ to inquire about jobs, she was asked to perform an oral sexual act on him. She walked out immediately and decided to never step into any media house again. Today she is happily working in the literary field, “minus the creeps,” as she puts it.

The editor lost his job due to charges of sexual misdemeanor”- NAME WITHELD

I was working in a newspaper in Delhi and there was an editor and his entire team, who were extremely foul- mouthed in front of women.  I was just on “hi” and “hello” terms with him but still he tried to touch me on many occasions. I had left the organization by then but I heard he eventually lost his job due to charges of sexual misdemeanor.

Many editors have got away with their antics because they were smart, Tejpal acted foolishly”- MOHUA FERNANDES

This kind of sexual harassment is not new in media circles. But it is important to highlight this issue because these editors – who think nobody can touch them and that they can even get away with murder – need to realise that they cannot get away with it every time. They need to practice what they preach, not just support an issue because it makes good copy. Look at their double standards: they cry hoarse when a photojournalist is gangraped by criminals, but when a respected editor violates his employee’s body against her wish, they call it consensual. Many editors have got away with their antics because they were smart. Tejpal acted foolishly, so he got caught. Personally, I have never faced any such harassment. But it is common knowledge that women in the media – like in other fields too – use their sexuality to climb the career ladder. That’s why very often mediocre employees get phenomenal promotions and perks. Of course, everybody else in office knows why.

I couldn’t muster the courage to report my senior colleague”- NAME WITHELD

I had started out as a trainee some nine years back with a leading Kolkata-based media house. The first time it happened was when I was asked out for coffee, to which I went ahead willingly as just another evening out with a colleague I knew well and interacted freely, not realising that was only the beginning of the mental harassment I was to face for months to come.

Five minutes into the conversation, I realised there was something wrong in the way the conversation was going. When I made it clear that I wasn’t interested in anything that he wanted out of me, and that he was just another male colleague, he said, ‘But women don’t come out for coffee with just any male friend. If she does she is plain available and has been asking for it’.

All of 22, I did not know how to react, what to say. All I knew was I walked out on him in the next five minutes. From there on began the stream of messages, morning, day and night, all of which threatened to malign me in public, full of cuss words, etc…if I opened my mouth or dared say a word. I could see a change in attitude in some other colleagues too, a smirk here, a snigger there. On one or two occasions, I did think of having a heart-to-heart chat with the boss and ask him for help, but a mere 8-month-old trainee’s account would perhaps stand no chance against the hoity toity. No, I couldn’t muster enough courage and kept mum sharing my shattered frame of mind with only a set of very close friends.

I was victimised in every possible way, dubbed incapable, inefficient, my copies not good enough, as it had to be passed through that one ‘male colleague’s’ coterie of people. I realised the root of the problem stemmed from that coffee at Flury’s.

I got a better job and moved on. But therein died a chirpy, easy-going 22-year-old, and emerged from the ashes a no-nonsense girl.

Tejpal incident would shake up a lot of people”- MOYNA SEN

Initially I did feel that maybe the Tejpal thing was being blown out of proportions for reasons best known to the people involved, simply because this was nothing new to the media world. But I guess the harassment issue had become so rampant, it needed to be addressed as well. More often than not these skirmishes are brushed under the carpet as run-of-the-mill incidents. Therefore this would hopefully nudge people out of their complacency, given that both Tejpal and his Tehelka are in serious trouble. Talking of myself, I cannot recall of very serious harassment issues. There have been insinuations, but nothing that I could not control by putting up an intolerant front. But I have seen some of my colleagues facing it, snide comments about their physical assets or even being propositioned directly. Some have been shocked, others have retorted and some have actually responded positively.

I went to meet him in his hotel room many times”- NAME WITHELD

He was an editor I had idolized all my life. I was just 21 when I met him at an office party and was over the moon for all the attention he showered me. Finally when he asked me to meet him in his hotel room the next day I said yes. From then on I went to meet him many times and he gifted me books and ordered champagne and we had romantic chats sitting in the balcony. But one thing is for sure. I never used my proximity to him to get a better position at work.

However, I soon realised I was falling in love with him and he was married. I thought if I could not dissociate myself I would be heading for disaster. I told him so and he did not force me to continue, neither did he victimize me in the workplace for not continuing. I soon moved abroad and we never met after that. At that point I thought I was the only woman he really liked but later on I came to know I was just one of the many.

This is a follow up of my earlier post Sexual harassment in Indian media: The inside story (PART I)

 

 
 
 

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…

A very interesting take on Tehelka.Check it out

The Greatbong Blog & Podcast

Being a very filmy person (but you already knew that I suppose), my ideal of a reporter was the character played by Sekhar Suman in “Tridev” whose murder, while doing investigative journalism piece on the dangerous Bhujang, let loose a sequence of spectacular events, that included but was not limited to Sunny Deol looking at the camera and saying, in a deadpan voice, “Ek aur sipahi desh ke liye shaheed ho gaye”.

In real life, the only people who came close to that khadi-clad, jhola-carrying ideal were the guys at Tehelka. Or that’s the way I saw things when they did the match-fixing sting, blowing the lid off the conspiracy of silence in a most spectacular way. And if that was not enough, then went up against the might of the NDA government and in the process was almost finished off by them.

This was brave stuff. They wrote their pieces…

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Confessions of a woman journalist from India

Confessions of a woman journalist from India

…My protection will be my responsibility, almost always. Editors, HR Heads who conducted my interviews said: “If you have to get into reporting, these are a few things you have to keep in mind:

  • You will have to keep long hours and you don’t know when you will go home.
  • You will cease to have a social life.
  • Don’t blame your job if you break up with your boyfriend.
  • If you think journalism is only about glamour, please don’t join.”

There was one thing that no one ever said though:

  • You will have to throw caution to the wind and get the job done if that means jeopardizing your own safety. And if you are not careful, you don’t know what you will land up in.

That is something that I learned on the job.

Baptism by fire

On the first day of my first job, my boss told me she had news that a very famous Indian singer was staying in a five-star hotel in Kolkata and if I could give him a call and find out if he would give us an interview. I was nervous because I hadn’t spoken to a celebrity before but the singer was sweet enough to agree to the interview.

Then I said: “I will come at 6pm for the interview. Should I come up to your room?” He said, “Okay. Please do.” I hung up satisfied that my first effort at getting an interview was going well.

But my boss was in peals. “Amrita, you should have never asked him if you could go to his room. He could take it as a cue for something else…you know….something more than just the interview…you get it, right?”

I wasn’t convinced I had done a faux pas. I argued back, “But I am a journalist asking for his interview, why would he think of ‘something else?’” My boss looked at me kindly… “It’s your first day at the job. In six months you will know what I mean.”

Now I began to get scared. So I coaxed and cajoled my boss to come along with me to the interview and she was sweet enough to relent. I called the singer from the hotel house phone and he asked me to join him in his room. After opening the door, when he saw my boss and the photographer, he couldn’t hide his surprise. He blurted, “I thought you were coming alone.”

His room was in a mess with his clothes strewn all around along with his under garments – definitely not the kind of room in which you wait for a journalist about to do an interview for a newspaper. He shoved the clothes underneath the comforter and got down to doing the interview, got friendly with all of us and impressed us with his knowledge of music.

But on my first day at a newspaper job he did give me a valuable lesson – to say it right, because men out there always look for cues. One wrong sentence and you never know what you are going to land yourself in.

And in the next six months, as my boss said, I learned a lot more. That’s why when a famous Bengali singer started giving me an interview only in his pyjamas, flashing his fleshy chest at me, I could tell him politely it would be nice if he could put on a piece of clothing while we spoke. He obliged.

That’s why when a 55-year-old Bengali writer asked me how I would feel if I was asked to kiss him, I could tell him I would be feeling like I am kissing my father and when one of the top stars of Bollywood wouldn’t stop smoking on my face I could tell him I would prefer to conduct the interview from the other end of the room and ended up doing just that.

In the film 15 park Avenue Konkona Sen Sharma plays the role of a journalist, who is raped when she go to a small town to cover the political situation there.

In the film 15 park Avenue Konkona Sen Sharma plays the role of a journalist, who is raped when she goes to a small town to cover the political situation there. Here also she went alone because she had to prove a point to her boss and to her boyfriend.

It’s always about getting the story

Journalism is a profession where you are constantly interacting with people from all walks of life and what often gets to me is the lack of respect at times women face because of this job. And back in the office, what only matters is whether you have got the story or not. If you say you didn’t because you were concerned about your personal safety chances are you would be treated as a lesser mortal. And that’s when it starts happening. Women start putting their own safety in the backburner in the pursuit of a story, to prove a point, to prove they are equally good or even better than their male counterparts.

When I read the account of the Mumbai rape victim in DNA http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/1880414/report-dna-exclusive-account-of-the-hellish-evening-when-mumbai-gang-rape-happened my first thought was what was she thinking? These men were clearly leading her on. Then I realized she is only 23, maybe just out of college, raring to go, raring to prove a point with her camera. Nothing else probably registered, nothing else mattered.

I think journalists are often conditioned like army men. Follow the orders and get the story. And if you don’t, be prepared to be court martialed in the editor’s room. On top of that if a competing publication gets the story and you couldn’t, God help you.

My safety comes first

I remember once my boss asked me to go to a Kolkata disco to interview a starlet as late as midnight. When I asked for the office car he told me, “Just hail a cab.”

I said, “It might be 2am before I finish the interview. I can’t go home so late on my own.” He retorted, “Just get the story.”

I could not imagine hailing a cab at 2am from Camac Street. I decided not to go to the assignment. Next day all hell broke loose. The allegations against me were insubordination and lack of commitment. In two seconds all my exclusives, all my late night desk work and my supposed “positive attitude” was forgotten. I didn’t care though. I was safe and that was what mattered.

A few months down the line I was sent for another assignment by the same boss, to cover a clothing exhibition at a five star hotel at a decent time – 7pm. By then, I was almost two years into the profession, had developed sharper instincts and an even sharper tongue. The first thing that struck me was that the exhibition was at a suite and not at the banquet, as it usually happens. I went to the suite and rang the bell. A gentleman opened the door and invited me in. I was about to step in, but I noticed there were at least 10 men seated there, drinking, talking boisterously and looking at me lustfully. I could not spot any woman around. When I enquired about the clothes the man at the door said it was in the bedroom. My inner voice told me not to step in. I did not. I handed the man my visiting card and told him to send me the photographs of the clothes and a write-up. The man looked very disappointed and some of the men had by then got up and joined him in his appeals to me. I left.

Next day I described the scenario to my boss and asked him what was I supposed to do? This time he agreed with my decision and didn’t haul me up for not doing an assignment. Needless to say the photographs and write-up were never delivered to me as promised by the man at the door.

Trust your instincts and get out

When I look back and think of my experiences I sometimes wonder would it have been better to be in another profession? My inner voice always says a firm NO. True. Sometimes there has been disrespect, but more often than not it has been compensated by ample respect. There have been negative experiences but also enriching experiences and most importantly experiences that have made me a stronger person, moulded me into someone who can’t be pushed around or taken for granted.

But after the Mumbai incident one thing I have realized is that women joining journalism should know personal safety is always bigger than the story. And in this profession it is but obvious you will be on a sticky wicket every other day. If your instinct says something is amiss just follow it.

Headlines come and go but your life doesn’t.

And going by the court verdict today where the juvenile involved in the Delhi rape case (the one who mutilated Nirbhaya with an iron rod) has been given three years in a juvenile home, women journalists will have to work harder towards protecting themselves now because the law is surely not coming to their rescue anytime soon.

rape 45_2

Dr Partha Gangopadhyay is a Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist based in Scotland. The psychiatrist, who got his undergraduate medical degree from NRS Medical College, Kolkata, is passionate about women’s issues. While discussing the recent rise in violence against women in India, Dr Gangopadhyay very patiently answered all the questions that I had. In this post I am sharing my interview with him, where Dr Gangopadhyay not only talks about the current situation in India and the way forward but also shares very interesting information with us. Here goes:

Q: What is the psychology of rape?

A: There is nothing which can be branded as typical of a rapist and no particular traits that can help us isolate rapists. Rape is the most extreme form of sexual violence. We all have inherent capacities to be violent but various inhibitions such as social norms, education, environment, religion and cultural attributes modify the primal instincts. However, in certain circumstances we all are capable of presenting with violence, which can be most often manifested in the context of domestic violence.

Offenders who have engaged in some kind of sexual offence are more likely to commit rape

What can be stated with certainty is that offenders who have engaged in some kind of sexual offence such as exhibitionism or indecent assaults are more likely to engage in the commission of rape. Moreover, research indicates that the presence of disinhibiting factors (In psychology disinhibition is a lack of restraint manifested in several ways, including disregard for social conventions and poor risk assessment) such as alcohol, illicit drugs and anger have been noted to be associated with extreme acts of violence such as rape.

People with no criminal history commit marital rape

However, in my view, it is quite possible for somebody with no criminal history, in absence of disinhibiting factors to engage in such heinous behaviour which is probably most pronounced in the context of “marital rape”.

Q: Apart from incarceration can psychological counselling be used as a means to reform rapists?

A: Custodial sentences only act as a form of punishment and are a punitive measure. They are not effective in changing the behaviour of offenders including sexual offenders.

In the UK there are psychological programmes for rapists in prisons

In the UK, an individual who has been convicted of serious sexual offences, including rape, would need to compulsorily participate in psychological programs in prison which are delivered by Forensic Psychologists within the Criminal Justice Services. These programs would often address issues such as victim empathy, anger management, impact of misusing illicit drugs and alcohol and would be delivered through various means such as role-plays, group discussions and individual therapy.

Anti-libidinal medications are also used for therapy

Recently, there has also been an interest in the use of anti-libidinal medications i.e. medications which reduce sex-drive, in the management of sexual offenders.

Dr Partha Gangopadhyay is a Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist based in Scotland

Dr Partha Gangopadhyay is a Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist based in Scotland

Q: Why do you think there is a rise in violent crimes against women in India?

A: There can be several reasons for this:

We are getting to know because of greater media coverage

Firstly I should comment that what we are seeing as a rise might be due to more effective media coverage and greater awareness of the general public, particularly women, regarding the absolute non-acceptance of such criminal behaviour.

Sexual violence is not the norm anymore

Women are more convinced now as individuals that any kind of violence against them which includes sexual violence is “not the norm” and this then leads to a greater chance for women who have experienced violence to be open about it and report it to the criminal justice system.

The skewed sex ratio in India is also to blame

The second reason probably is the high male to female Sex ratio in India. Sex ratio is expressed as the number of women per thousand men in a given population at a given time. The high sex ratio in India can be attributed to sex-selective abortion and infanticide due to a strong preference for male heirs. This affects future marriage patterns and fertility patterns and causes unrest among young adult males who are unable to find partners. Except Kerala and Puducherry all other states and union territories in India have a negative sex ratio i.e. less than 1000 women for every 1000 men, with Haryana faring the worst among states (877 women per 1000 men in 2011) and Delhi near the bottom for Union territories (866 women per 1000 men in 2011). This might explain to some extent the high incidence of sexually violent crimes in these areas.

Q: What steps can be taken in India to handle the current situation?  

A: Firstly there has to be an absolute political will to tackle this which has to go beyond narrow party interests. Secondly, I believe that there is enough legislation in India to protect women and prosecute offenders. What is lacking is effective enforcement of these legislations due to various factors such as shortage of resources, corruption and political (and various other) interferences on the public protection and prosecution systems (Police & Courts). This has to change.

India should stop projecting women as commodity

I also consider that mass entertainment media such as advertisements and films have been sometimes guilty of projecting women as a commodity whose only goal in life is to appear beautiful and obediently serve the men folk whether as a daughter, sister or wife. Such projections only nourish a derogatory view towards women which can be manifested in thoughts such as it is permissible to use force including sexual violence towards women.

The notion that women attract the attention of rapists by their behaviour and clothing should be attacked aggressively 

Finally, though unfortunate, it is still widely considered in India that a woman who is dressed seductively is more likely to be sexually violated because she is almost inviting it. This notion has to be attacked aggressively through various perspectives such as education, media, politics and it has to be spelt out clearly that whatever way a woman chooses to behave or dress, it does not give any individual any right to violate her privacy.

Q: There is violence against women in UK and there is violence in India too but in what way are these two places different?

A: There are a few separate issues that we need to consider. Firstly, UK and India belong to two different socio-economic categories. With respect to violence against women, the important relevant differences would be in literacy levels and a more effective, well-resourced public protection system (Police & Courts) who are relatively free from political influence.

In UK there is greater social acceptance of a victim

Secondly, there is greater social acceptance of a victim who has been subject to sexual violence. This then facilitates the reporting of such incidents. There is also an understanding that a woman is free to choose what she wears but that does not give any man a right to behave in an inappropriate manner.

Convictions for rape are not easy to achieve in UK either

However, convictions for rape are not easy to achieve in UK either and often prosecution is abandoned owing to lack of evidence in spite of access to better Forensic facilities.

Support and rehabilitation of victims is necessary

Finally, there are a lot of agencies (Government and NGO’s) who provide support and rehabilitation for victims of sexual offences and their families in the UK, which might be a development need for India.

(Dr Partha Gangopadhyay trained in Psychiatry in London and then undertook further training in Forensic Psychiatry in Scotland for four years. His work involves looking after people who have a mental disorder but who have also committed a crime i.e. mentally disordered offenders (MDO). His research interests lie in Medical Education, specifically assessment for undergraduate medical students. His other interest is Medical Ethics & Law in which he is pursuing a Masters.)

Bengali actor Bobby Chakraborty

Bengali actor Bobby Chakraborty

Actor Bobby Chakraborty is not someone who would say anything just for effects. If he says something, he believes in it and if he believes in it he practises it. That is why his brainchild, the project titled I Am The King of My Mind, has gained so much momentum among school students in Kolkata, India. The project aims at telling young people the consequences of addiction and how one doesn’t need to drink or smoke to enjoy life.

For more: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-05-30/kolkata/39627920_1_addiction-exxon-mobil-actor-bobby-chakraborty

When Bobby is not shooting at the studio chances are you will catch him at some school, somewhere in West Bengal, interacting with young people. His pet project regularly takes him to the most well-known educational institutions of Kolkata, like the Heritage School and La Martinere School, and also to the numerous schools located in the interiors of rural Bengal and the Sundarbans.

Check Bobby’s Facebbok Page:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/313095188790160/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g6QylXwSkg&sns=fb

Bobby with children at a school

Bobby with children at a school

Bobby posing with local kids at Sunderban

Bobby posing with local kids at Sunderban

There is one more thing that Bobby believes in too – that is equal opportunities and respect for women.

“When I interact with students I also talk to them about gender equality and respect for the fairer sex. In today’s society where there is so much violence against women this is particularly relevant,” says Bobby.

When I asked Bobby to write his views for my blog the actor took out time from him busy schedule and sent his views to my inbox within a day.

This is what he wrote:

I have always believed in peaceful co-existence of man and woman. That is how nature has made us. But some men, with their so-called physical superiority, have always been trying to foolishly prove themselves superior to women. Physical violence and rape has been the tool for such men for centuries.

Patriarchy is to blame

A woman is probably the hardest worker in the family, but her job is thankless. Most often children do not learn to value the work that women do and they are taught that men, often the bread winners, are all important. So the male child does not learn to respect the women in his family. And he carries this attitude forward to his future interactions with women – as friends, girlfriends, wives and eventually prey.

Men feel insecure around competent women

Educated and competent women are claiming the same recognition as men and more often than not giving them stiff competition at work. This is creating a sense of insecurity and the false male ego is bruised. That’s when men are resorting to violence against women to prove they are the ones in power. This trend is most dangerous.

Alcohol is often the reason for such crimes

It is said alcohol often brings out the Devil in you. And that is so true. People often end up doing things under the spell of alcohol that they would not otherwise do in a normal state. Rapists are usually dead drunk.

I hope and wish my crusade against alcohol will help in making future generations more sensible and sensitised about women.

Bobby at a candlelight vigil in Kolkata in June, protesting violence against women

Bobby at a candlelight vigil in Kolkata in June, protesting violence against women

But right now as responsible men it is within our capacity to make an immediate impact and make the environment safer for women. With the following examples I say what can be done:

1.           You are not a Superman but you can call for help

If you see a woman is harassed by some men and if you feel getting into the situation might be dangerous for you, call for help.

I will give you an example of what I did once. It was around 8.30pm and I was taking a walk on Marine Drive in Mumbai and enjoying the drizzle when I saw a gang of around eight-10 guys harassing a girl. I knew if I tried to intervene they would overpower me. So I ran in the opposite direction and alerted the traffic police on duty who in turn alerted the mobile van. Within no time the van came and rescued the girl.

2.           Put your foot down if you see a man trying to get fresh with a woman, be it on public transport or at a party

Women are most often strong enough to deal with these situations but it is our duty to let them know we are always there to lend them a helping hand.

I have seen drunk men often make advances at women at parties. A civilized talk with the drunkard might help but if that does not work then security should be called in. There have been instances when I have been threatened with dire consequences after they have been thrown out of the party. But men who use alcohol as a license to misbehave are usually cowards. So you can be sure that threat will always be empty.

3.           Stand up for your co-workers

In the workplace too there have been situations when I found out that a co-actor was being sexually harassed by someone. The first thing I did was to draw the producer or the director’s attention. If that does not work it can always be taken up with, in my case Artists’ Forum, in other cases the supreme authority at the workplace.

4.           Always remember REAL men respect women

If you are a real man then you will learn to respect every woman in your life – from your mother to the woman you are travelling with in a public bus to the maid, who is working in your house. This way you will learn to respect yourself. When you have self respect you have everything.

(Bobby has recently starred in National Award winning filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s hindi film Station which is part of the series Thrayadashi.)

DSCN3960

It’s common to witness Dubai bashing in the international media but when one comes across a report like this in Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/britchick-paris/why-dubai-is-rapidly-beco_b_3156110.html#postComment

one is indeed pleasantly surprised.

More than anything else what struck me most in the article is the following paragraph:

Dubai allows you to be you. And controversially especially if you are a woman. I’m not the only woman to think that. I feel safer here in Dubai than I do in London or Paris. There is a healthy respect that means you are just left alone, so long as you in turn respect the local values and customs.

Also in Europe there is often an underlying chauvinism, that means that men can do it better, hence the paucity of women board members at big Western companies. Here from my experience and that of my entrepreneur friends, women in business are admired. I can hear all the cynics ready to wade in but I cannot refute the evidence I have from the last few weeks working here. It has been a breath of fresh air. Not to mention the openness and creativity that comes from a city that is exploding and growing at lightening speed. In ten years it has achieved what New York did in 150.

This egged me to write about what I know about the city living here for the last six years.

Ask any woman from any nationality if they feel safe living in or travelling to Dubai the answer will always be “yes” without a second thought.

Without any statistics at hand it might be a bit hard to explain why the answer is always so but I will try to do so with a few examples.

When I first moved to Dubai in 2007 my husband and I would go for after-dinner walks to the Dubai Creek which is 20 minutes from my home. One day while sitting there and enjoying the lovely view we never realized it was 1am. It was a weekday and the place was empty except for a few men sitting around here and there in twos and threes chatting amongst themselves.

I looked around and told my husband fearfully, “Do you think it’s safe to hang around here so late?”

He said, “Don’t worry, Dubai is totally safe for women. The longer you live here the better you will know.”

That’s when I spotted an abaya and sheyla-clad lady walking rigorously in her sneakers – all alone.  Coming from India, where a woman’s safety is a perpetual concern, this was quite an impossible scenario for me. Six years down the line I have not yet experienced a lone walk at Dubai Creek at 1 am but I have comfortably walked alone at 12am to the 24X7 supermarket in my neighbourhood to fetch something, I have driven back home from the outskirts of the city at 2am after an office party taking a detour to drop a female friend on the way. I have hailed a cab post-midnight and reached home safe and sound lost in conversation with a friendly cabbie, and I have walked back home from a friend’s place all alone pretty late in the night.

Men and women hang out at a cafe in Dubai. many cafes are open till 4am or through the night.

Men and women hang out at a cafe in Dubai. Many cafes are open till 4am or through the night.

In the neighbourhood where I live, it is not uncommon to see women coming back home from work really late, mixed or even all men’s groups sitting around and chatting in the cafés late in the night. Nobody will give you a second look, nobody will try to follow you, make passes at you, hassle you with lewd comments.

In India we are always looking over our shoulders, something we hardly have to do here. So when something happens in Dubai it always comes as a shock.

Does this mean crime against women does not exist in Dubai?

Not at all. With 120 nationalities living together in a metropolis it is inevitable crime will exist and one gets to read about sexual crimes against women in the newspapers often. Dubai is also fighting human trafficking and domestic violence is also one of the issues here. But one has to admit that the rate of crime is much lower in Dubai compared to other cities.

Teenage girls move around the city comfortably

Teenage girls move around the city comfortably

Women are as comfortable in western clothes as they are in traditional ethnic wear

Women are as comfortable in western clothes as they are in traditional ethnic wear

Moving around the city late in the night is not an issue at all

Moving around the city late in the night is not an issue at all

Then how is Dubai safe?

For me it is safe because every time I step out of my home I don’t have be constantly on my guard. I come from Kolkata where I am used to being groped, commented and stared at all the time. That way Dubai comes as a breath of fresh air for me. I can be myself, wear whatever clothes I want, not worry about attracting too much attention in my short skirt, go for after-dinner-walks at 11pm with my son and travel comfortably in public transport. And also, the same Indians who misbehave back home are civil here.

Police has a major role to play

The police here provides an amazing safety net for women by efficiently patrolling the city 24×7. Be sure to spot a Dubai Police patrol wherever you go. If a woman dials 999 for help they will be there in two minutes. And most importantly the Dubai police force command respect and fear among the people for their commitment. Unlike in India, where bribes can settle matters with the police, that is unthinkable here.

Another thing that keeps women in Dubai safe is the inevitability of punishment. There is no escaping that. A British woman was raped and kidnapped by three men last July. They were eventually caught and in eight months the verdict was out and they are now in jail. Justice is delivered quickly and efficiently.

Read her story here:

http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/general/call-me-a-survivor-says-gang-raped-woman-in-dubai-1.1155077

Recently an intoxicated Pakistani bus driver tried to rape an American lady tourist in an empty bus only to be beaten up by her. She escaped from the bus and reported the incident to the police. The man has been arrested and the court proceedings have already started. I will not be surprised if the case is settled quickly. Read about it here:

http://gulfnews.com/about-gulf-news/al-nisr-portfolio/xpress/female-sailor-escapes-rape-during-dubai-visit-1.1175039

In this regard I would like to share an incident that put my friend in a tricky situation. This happened a few years back when she had just moved to Dubai alone. She and another friend were returning home late from a party when some men in a four-wheel started tailing them. They drove around town trying to shake them off but to no avail. Then after much deliberation they called the police. The officer on patrol duty immediately came to their rescue, did not ask them why they were out so late, escorted them home and needless to say, nabbed the men immediately.

Dubai Police patrolling the city

Dubai Police patrolling the city

My friends with teenage daughters growing up here say that they are less worried about them when they go out for their tuitions or to meet friends than they would have been had they been in India.

That day a friend asked, “What is it you will miss about Dubai when you move back to Kolkata?”

My instant reply was, “I will miss venturing out of my home, even at unearthly hours, without a care in the world.”

When I move back to Kolkata I guess I will have to sharpen my claws all over again.

(Photographs: Amrita Mukherjee)