Fifty six women housekeeping staffers at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Hyderabad are staring at a bleak future, after the institute fired them and want new replacements to be sent by the agency they belong to. This comes after the women complained about sexual harassment by one of the employees – while the accused, D Srinivas Reddy, continues to work in the campus, the women have been thrown out unceremoniously, despite following all due process. Some of them were working in the campus for a decade.
It all started in October last year, when the supervisor of the housekeeping staff lodged a case against D Srinivas Reddy, a stenographer with the institution, for sexually harassing housekeeping employees.
“Srinivas used to sexually harass women employees who would attend to his cabin. He would hold the women staff by their hips, click their photographs without consent, and invite them home to sleep with him,” says Ratna Kumari, the supervisor, adding, “He became so open about his acts that he would directly come to me and ask me to send young and pretty women to his cabin. When I told him that none of the women wanted to work with him, he said that I have a good figure and asked me to sleep with him.”
According to the staff, Srinivas allegedly abused the women using sexual expletives, used sexual connotations while speaking to them, and asked the women to sleep with him claiming his wife wasn’t home.
“This went on for a year during which two-three women staffers quit their jobs, unable to bear the harassment. When we finally decided to file a harassment case against Srinivas, he started threatening our contractor to restrain us from filing the complaint,” Ratna says.
Police inaction and a bogus ICC
The women first approached a few authorities inside the campus and informed them about Srinivas’s misconduct with the staff. Receiving no response from the higher-ups, the women decided to file a police complaint, while Srinivas Reddy continuously threatened the women and the contractor. Murali, owner of Murali Manpower Agency, who sends staff for housekeeping at NIFT, tells TNM that he got a call from Srinivas Reddy seven months back demanding that Kumari be thrown out of the job.
“Srinivas wasn’t authorised to look after the housekeeping services and I was puzzled. And never before have I received a complaint about any of my staff. I went to the campus the next day and enquired with Kumari about the issue. She and the other women told me they were sexually harassed by Srinivas, and that they are filing a complaint with the cops. I offered Kumari a job elsewhere, but she wasn’t ready to step back. She told me she wouldn’t resign because she had done no wrong,” Murali says.
According to the women, Srinivas Reddy wields a good amount of influence on the higher officials in the campus. With no support from NIFT authorities, the women filed a complaint against Srinivas Reddy at the Madhapur police station in October last year. A case was registered and an FIR was filed against the accused, police confirmed to TNM.
According to media reports, Srinivas Reddy was allegedly absconding after he was booked for sexual harassment.
After the case was filed and media took cognisance of the issue, the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) of NIFT approached the women.
“A team from Delhi came down to handle the matter. They talked to all the staff and the last time we spoke to one of its members, she informed us unofficially that they understood that it was a case of sexual harassment. They claimed that a report was sent to Hyderabad. But after seven months, officials in Hyderabad claim there has been no harassment and Srinivas Reddy is still continuing in his job,” Kumari says.
When TNM tried to contact an ICC member in Hyderabad, they claimed to know nothing about the report and said that the matter was taken care of by authorities in Delhi.
New clause and lost jobs
Seven months after being booked for sexual harassment, Srinivas Reddy is still protected inside the walls of the campus, but the 56 women staff have been asked to terminate their services. An order was sent on Tuesday morning asking the contractor to end the services of all the women working in the campus, a day after the women took to the streets demanding Srinivas Reddy’s resignation.
“The officials now claim that there have been lapses on the part of the housekeeping team, due to which they want to bring in new staff. Many of us here have been working in the campus for the past two decades. Why are they picking faults only now?” Kumari asks.
Further, contractor Murali points out that a new clause has been added to the tender notice for housekeeping services that was released on June 9.
The clause reads: “Existing housekeeping staff should not be taken by the new contractor/agency. Contractor/agency should deploy all new housekeeping personnel.”
“I won the bid this time too. I now have to follow the order by the authorities and terminate all the women staff from the campus and deploy new staff,” Murali says.
Police siding with NIFT?
When TNM contacted the Madhapur SHO, he said that the protest by the women staff on Monday was their “agitation for being terminated for their lethargic work inside the campus.”
“It is true that a case was filed last October against Srinivas Reddy. But later we found that the women were creating unnecessary ruckus for being terminated from service. The case is now closed,” the official said.
TNM tried to reach out to the director of the institution, but received no response.
Despite losing their jobs, Kumari says that the women have resolved to keep the fight on until Srinivas is thrown out from his job.
“The one who is harassing us is being protected inside the institute and we are being threatened and are losing our jobs. They (the director and the faculty) keep threatening us. They say we can get our jobs back if we compromise. But we do not want to compromise. The director general of NIFT is a woman. We don’t know if she is aware of the issue yet. Wouldn’t she at least ensure that we get justice?” Kumari asks.
(With inputs from Shilpa S Ranipeta and Nitin B)