Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
Human rights of a lady IT professional were caddishly contravened in the office of the Larsen & Toubro Infotech; but her protests against the offense made the management use designed dragnets to further victimize the victim.
The offense fits into the definition of sexual harassment as pronounced by the Supreme Court of India and warrants action under its 1997 guideline promulgated in Vishaka case by J.S.Verma C.J.I. , Mrs Sujata V. Manohar and B.N.Kripal JJ (AIR 1997 SC 3011) on August 13, 1997. But L & T Infotech, in the instant case, has shown scant regards for the Supreme Court guideline and has, instead of acting against the offender, used intimidating tactics to “force upon” the victim “to retract and take all the blame” to herself “in writing”.
The affected lady trainee is an engineering degree holder with excellent academic records on study of which the L & T Infotech had placed before her its “OFFER OF APPOINTMENT AS SOFTWARE ENGINEER TRAINEE” and it was natural on her part to positively respond to the offer, as an “offer” of appointment makes any job seeker accept it.
And, on joining the company on 23 November 2010, the lady recruit made excellent marks on her assignments. Her success was “applauded” in an official commendation sent to her on 28 March 2011, wherein it was noted, “Congratulations on your successful completion of SET Induction Programme. We applaud the hard work and efforts you have put in for this impressive achievement”. Alas, the same distinguished hard worker is now being condemned by the company as a person who does “anything and everything in her capacity to excuse her leave from the organization”!
Why this? This is because, she has been insisting upon action against the perpetrator of sexual harassment and abettors thereof in the office of L & T Infotech and has left the workplace alarmed by lack of ready refuge in the company from the offending design and continues on seeking leave till a safe environment – free of fear of sexual harassment – is made available to her by way of exemplary action against her tormentor and the abettors.
Lackadaisical manners of the management in the instant case is discernible in the very fact that when she put on records how was she browbeaten by the HR topnotch under the cover of inquiry over her allegation to change her allegation of “gender harassment” to “misbehavior” of a male colleague and how thereby she has been subjected to “mental distress”, and demanded that the matter should rather be forwarded to the higher up for correction of the wrong done to her, the company has preferred not to answer to her, though, after receipt of this mail, she has been told several times to resume work by submitting medical certificates in support of her absence.
The victim trainee, in her communication, in refusing to give a particular date to resume work, has said:
“I am not able to give you an exact date of joining because I have been severely beaten up mentally by the HR department of the company. Unfortunately, when they should have been more humanly concerned to my problem, they, instead ……….. tried to slight me in all possible ways and put me on the spot and almost forced upon me to retract and take all the blame to myself in writing. This kind of humiliating situation coming from HR of a company of L & T repute has shattered my dreams and confidence as an young professional; I am speechless.
“Added to my physical discomfort and ill health ( caused by the nasty act of sexual harassment) this mental distress inflicted upon me by the HR has become a great drag in my concentration, and hence, I am not able to give you any fixed time of joining my duty anytime soon.
“Kindly consider my situation and do the needful. Should you even like to pass the matter higher up, I will have no objection since I feel there is an inherent flaw in the company HR policy/system which, if corrected, will yield higher human dividend to the company in the long run”.
Even as the L & T Infotech authorities have not countered the allegation raised in this communication, they have started using the tactics of blackmail to silent the affected trainee. Through deliberate wrong interpretation of her absence from workplace, they are demanding a sum of Rs.2 lakhs under cover of abandonment of service before two years of bonded time!
IT Professionals Bonded Labors?
The Company boasts of being the best managed Company of India on the strength of a 2010 Business Standard survey. The survey looks correct in this specific context. The company is so shrewdy managed that the world does not know that it makes bonded labors out of IT professionals it recruits as trainee employees!
Our investigation shows that the trainee recruits are made to sign on dotted lines on a “prescribed letter of undertaking on the date of joining” and as a matter of “mandatory requirement”, the said “prescribed letter of undertaking” is signed on dotted lines also by two guarantors. As at the time of “joining” this “prescribed letter of undertaking” is handed over to the trainee recruit for her/his as well as the guarantors’ signature on dotted lines, none of the recruit side signatories gets any time to peruse and understand the contents thereof and as no copy of the said “prescribed letter of undertaking” is supplied to the signatories, the contents thereof remains beyond their knowledge for ever. After joining, the trainee recruit knows that there is no courses of study for the training. The only thing that takes place is doing jobs that employees usually do. So, trainee recruits work on projects like regular employees; but do the job at much less a cost than the salary given to regular employees. There is possibility of resentment, L & T Infotech knows, against this practice of exploitation. Over and above such financial harassment, sexual harassment is a regular phenomenon that lady employees often experience in workplaces despite the Supreme Court’s Vishakha verdict. Many studies made by various researchers and organizations such as India’s National Commission for Women, have revealed that, even though subjected to sexual harassment in workplaces, many women do not put their complaints on records; simply because, they are afraid of facing hostility in the circle of male colleagues or of being dismissed by organized machinations under the offender’s one-upmanship. Yet, there is possibility of protests on records by exceptionally extraordinary ones. In such exceptional cases, L & T Infotech has its invented tactics of blackmailing to suppress the protests by subjecting the protester to circumstances of paying a heavy money that they style ‘liquidated damage’ to the company. If unable to stomach the humiliation, a lady trainee employee remains absent or resigns, she is to pay a sum of Rs.2 lakhs to the company under the design of liquidated damage and be bound not to join any other organization within two years under covenants contrived in the “prescribed letter of undertaking”.
If this is not a clear instance of how IT professionals are being treated as bonded labors by a company like the L & T Infotech, then the State must act immediately to investigate into the matter and let the people know, how it interprets the character of the company’s claim of liquidated damage against a lady who is in protest-absence to protect her dignity and human rights from perpetrators of sexual harassment in workplace.
Victimizing the victim by a corporate concern cannot be countenanced.