Allege they were sexually harassed and forced to resign over a year ago; firm claims they left on their own

It’s been barely a week since the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha, but B. Alamelu and Jhansi Rani, hailing from villages in Chengalpattu, do not know about it.

The women were employees of Tuk Tuk Exports, one of the 13 apparel companies in Mahindra World City, a special economic zone on the outskirts of the city.

For over a year now, the duo has been waging a war against their employer, demanding justice and their jobs back. The women allege that they were sexually harassed by their supervisor, and on complaining about it, were forced to resign.

Attempted suicide

The matter came to light when Alamelu, who used to work as an alteration operator, consumed rat poison and attempted suicide last year. The labour commission, acting on her complaint, forced the company to take action against a supervisor in the company, who, Alamelu says, had harassed her for four months.  

“But I never realised that complaining about him would cost me my job,” said Alamelu (37), who is a single mother of two children, and a resident of Periyaputheri.

“The supervisor often spoke to me in obscene language, called me names and would ask if I had any desires. If I asked him for leave, he would tell me that I needed to ‘adjust’ with him for leave. He told me that even to go to the bathroom, I needed his permission,” she said.

Alamelu said the supervisor’s attitude changed after she complained about him to a senior company official. “Once he found out, he started humiliating me in front of the other employees. And one day, when I could not go to work, he called me all sorts of names, and asked the security guards to not to allow me inside the next day. I stood there the whole day, demanding the reason for my termination,” she said.

A checker of finished products in the same company, Jhansi Rani (21), faced a similar problem. While checking shirts, she picked up one that had been passed by the same manager who had harassed Alamelu. When she sent it for re-inspection, he was furious. “He grabbed my hand, stamped my feet and shoved me violently and pushed me out. He told me if I didn’t quit, he would do worse,” she said.

Jhansi filed a complaint with the company in April 2012 and subsequently one with the labour commission in July 2012, and said she has been waiting for over 14 months to be re-employed.

“I have been going there, begging for my job almost every other day. One day when I went there, they forced me to sign on a blank sheet. They closed all the doors to make sure I did not escape. Is this any way to treat anybody?” she asked.

Union takes up issue

Another employee, who raised her voice against the injustices suffered by the women, was also forced to resign, thereby ensuring that there was no protest from other employees.

The matter was taken up by the Garment and Fashion Workers’ Union a few months ago. Sujatha Modi, secretary of the union says managers in factories often used sexual harassment to control their employees, especially low-wage workers who earn around Rs. 3,000 a month.

“The company has violated all the Vishaka guidelines. The women have to travel at least 40 km for every hearing and often, company officials do not turn up. The company should not only take these women back, but also pay their back wages,” she said.

Hearing next week

Officials at Tuk Tuk Exports said the matter was being probed by the labour department and that a hearing has been scheduled for next week. “We have refuted all charges of harassment. These women resigned on their own. Only after the hearing, will we be able to talk about it,” said an official.

Jhansi and Alamelu however, want to pursue their case. “My father is bed-ridden and I need money for him. But I do not want any other woman to go through what I underwent,” said Jhansi.

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