Sexual harassment at the workplace has been one of the biggest stories in India in recent years, not because it did not happen before, but because women did not complain. And they did not speak out because there was and is, still, a huge stigma attached to revealing what their colleague or boss had subjected them to. They still run the risk of being branded a "loose" woman , or someone who brought it upon themselves by attracting unwanted attention.
Most often, the perpetrator might try to pass off the complaint as that of a mutual friendship gone awry, or a case of misunderstood intentions. Or a case of the woman maligning a perfectly innocent man. The number of times this latter defence is taken, especially when it involves a well known individual, is astonishing. Why is it that women only seem to complain of sexual harassment when they have a grudge against an unfortunate male victim? Can this argument be true every time it is used? Our problem is that we are quick to disbelieve women and trust men, but then it is often a power game in which we will hear just one side of the story.
It is only lately, thanks to social media and a highly sensitised press, that we have begun to hear the female victim's narrative.
Of course, the reality is also is that, as in the TERI case, many of us know, or have seen the Nobel prize-winning Mr Pachauri and always found him to be gentle and amenable. Most of us don't know the alleged victim at all. So it is easy for us to jump to conclusions, or even be gently manoeuvred towards them. Again, it is not just a lack of information, but a set of prejudices that we might fall prey to.
"Perhaps it was just innocent flirtation", someone will invariably mumble. But the fact is that very few professional women actually like being flirted with in the workplace. Nor does the present generation of hard-working women want the credit of their success to go to the would be sugar-daddies. It is also a fact that working women invariably prefer a level playing field.
But the doubts and the insinuations remain. These days I find sotto voce, both men and women complaining over the hard won anti-rape bill, saying that it is much too harsh on men. These are dangerous insinuations because the reality is that it is not the bill, but the implementation of it that is faulty.
Most of these cases do not seem to find a quick resolution, and the victim has to bear with unnecessary and unwanted scrutiny for a long period of time. Just look at how long this sexual harassment case at TERI seems to be dragging on. Similarly other cases involving a few other high profile offenders are still plodding along in court. People are out on bail and one wonders why we think the anti-rape bill is tough.