The survivor, a Dalit woman, had complained to the organisation about sexual harassment by her manager. And the way Amnesty India responded was disappointing, she says.

Amnesty India mishandled harassment complaint forced me to go to cops Former employeeImage for representation
news Sexual Harassment Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - 12:44

Until recently, Anu* was an employee of Amnesty India. And while she worked there, she faced sexual harassment from one of her managers. However, when Anu approached the Internal Complaints Committee of the human rights organisation and filed a complaint against him, the ordeal she faced was disappointing, she says. “They finally fired him, but he tried to trouble me in several ways,” Anu tells TNM, forcing her to approach the police. Anu alleges that her harasser tried putting pressure on her family through others to withdraw her complaint, and had also instigated other colleagues at Amnesty to complain against her to the organisation while she was working there. She recently gave her statement to a magistrate to this effect.

Anu is a Dalit woman, and her alleged abuser is a Dalit man – an activist. In a complaint filed with the Indiranagar police station, Anu said that the man had been sending inappropriate messages to her. Speaking to TNM, Anu said that she faced repeated workplace harassment at his hands, including in the form of emails, and objectionable or suggestive messages on WhatsApp. But before she could file a complaint against him, he had filed a complaint against her to the programs director, stating that she was rude and difficult, and this was the reason why the team’s projects were being held up. In the course of this email, he also confessed that he had sent inappropriate messages to her, and had also apologised.

Alleging that Amnesty did not bother to keep the workplace safe for her despite his confession, Anu says, “The HR manager and the programs director allowed me to report to him until I officially asked them to change my reporting line, after filing an official complaint of sexual harassment. They could have taken suo moto against him, which they didn’t.”

Anu says that the Internal Complaints Committee at Amnesty mishandled the case, and the Amnesty management breached her privacy in many instances. “Without my consent, the issue of my complaint was shared with the Amnesty India Board. A Board member's colleague then reached out to Raja Vemula (Rohith Vemula’s brother) acting as a liaison between him and Amnesty, and revealed my case to him when an ex employee had made complaints of discrimination within the organisation. She claimed to Raja that my case had been dealt with  ‘beautifully’ by Amnesty India,” Anu says, “This is a clear case of breach of confidentiality as she was doing this without my consent and also spreading misinformation about my case. Raja Vemula has written his concern about this to the Amnesty International Secretariat including the Board members, and has received no response from anyone. I, too, have raised this with the Executive Director as well as the Board members.”

“There were extremely uncomfortable questions that they resorted to,” she said. One of the ICC members allegedly told Anu’s witness that she was ‘getting too defensive.’

The panel was also insensitive to her, Anu alleges. “The Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act explicitly says that the ICC must be available when needed. I had to inform HR to remind the ICC to answer my mails several times,” she says. However, while they delayed replies to her concerns, they barely gave her any time to respond to their queries, she alleges.

She also alleges that she was thrown out of her project on the basis of a complaint made by a friend of the man she had accused of harassment, while her sexual harassment complaint was being heard.

Alleging caste discrimination by Amnesty, she said, “Things would have been different if I were a savarna woman. The case would have been dealt with more sensitively. This is precisely the reason why most Dalit women refuse to come out with their experiences. The support that savarna women survivors garner is much more compared to Dalit women. Caste identity subjects Dalit women to further oppression unlike other privileged caste women. In my case, knowing that he himself has confessed to sending inappropriate messages, there was no need for them to wait for me to file my complaint before taking action.”

Amnesty India fired the alleged harasser at the end of the ICC proceedings; they also laid off Anu, and many others, a few months later, citing a fund crush.

After her harasser was terminated by Amnesty, Anu says, “...he has attempted to influence my father and family friends by asking various activists to make calls. My father received a call pressuring him to withdraw the complaint.”

“In addition, he has indulged in instigating his close associate who was also a consultant with Amnesty to write an adverse report against me to the organisation,” she further alleges, “He has also instigated his close associate to threaten my witness. Despite reporting this to the Executive Director, no action was taken.”

When contacted, Amnesty India said, “In light of confidentiality, we cannot confirm or deny the names of the individuals and we request The News Minute not to disclose the identity of the complainant or the respondent. We are aware of a police complaint filed under the IPC. We have conducted a thorough inquiry and taken action in line with our organisational policies.”

*Name changed