Air India SATS has not bothered to suspend the VP despite a chargesheet filed against him.

Harassed and isolated at work Kerala woman who took on boss for sexual harassment speaks outImage for representation only
news Sexual Harassment Wednesday, July 26, 2017 - 15:33

When 29-year-old Mary* walks into her office in Kerala’s capital city of Thiruvananthapuram every morning, she is no longer greeted with warm smiles by her colleagues. Instead, the past year saw Mary’s colleagues turning their backs towards her, and also to the sexual harassment complaint she had filed against her boss.

Mary is an employee of Air India SATS in Thiruvananthapuram, an agency dealing with ground handling operations. She had filed a sexual harassment case against her boss and the Vice President of the company Binoy Jacob in July last year.

Her legal battle against her boss, who is also alleged to be politically well-connected, has left her disheartened but she is determined to pursue the case, Mary tells The News Minute. 

Despite two women complaining and a chargesheet being filed in February 2017, AI Sats has not taken any action against the man and he continues to be VP of the organisation.

The alleged sexual harassment

 After joining the company in October 2015, Mary was taken aback when Binoy Jacob began to slip in sexually explicit content during their interactions. 

 “Once, just two weeks into the job, he told me that I should take part in a business conference to be held in a 5-star hotel in the city. Assuming that it might add on to my work experience, I readily agreed. However, when I met Mr Binoy at the lounge in the hotel the day the conference was supposed to be held, he told me that there was no conference at all. He wanted to apparently spend some personal time with me alone and quizzed me whether anybody else knew that I had come to the hotel. It was then that he asked me what my breast size was. I was taken aback and did not know how to react, so I let it pass. But then I made it clear to him that my priorities were different and that I was only looking to do well at work,” Mary recollects. 

However, Binoy did not stop his advances and continued to ignore Mary's opposition, Mary alleges. Phone calls and text messages at odd hours became a routine and Binoy made it a point to constantly "follow up" whether Mary has had a change of mind, she alleges. 

 "He said that I must go with him to Delhi for a similar conference, without the knowledge of other employees. He said that I was young and that I had great potential in the industry if only I wanted to," Mary says. 

Months later in June 2016, she decided to take action, after having learnt that several other women employees were also victims like her. She alleges that with the HR manager of the company refusing to admit her complaints, she had to approach a senior official, who forwarded her complaint to the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) from the Delhi headquarters. 

"At the time, our Thiruvananthapuram office did not even have an ICC, which is also in violation to the law. The ICC team that arrived from Delhi was prompt in recording my statements, but soon I gathered that they were also influenced by Binoy. Another colleague who agreed to give a statement as a witness to the ordeal I had to face, was threatened and harassed by Binoy," Mary alleges. 

Having lost faith in the ICC, Mary approached the Museum police in Thiruvananthapuram. Though the police booked Binoy in a case of outraging the modesty of a woman, he was never arrested in the case. A month after this in October, the ICC enquiry found that "no harassment" had taken place. 

Continued harassment 

Even when stringent laws exist in this country to address sexual harassment complaints at a workplace, justice has been denied to her, Mary rues. Neither did the ICC follow proper procedures, nor did her fellow employees support her in her battle, she says. 

"Now, no body speaks to me and another woman staff who spoke in my favour. We are not given work, we are completely isolated here. I thought about quitting work many times, but that won't help my case and I will not budge. Through other employees, Binoy even offered me Rs 10 lakh to withdraw the case," Mary says.

Mary even approached the National Commission for Women in November last year, but in vain. 

Responding to TNM story, AISATS issued an official statement late on Wednesday. AISATS claimed that an independent committee was comprised to look into the woman employee's complaint, but "the findings of the committee were inconclusive against the accused." 

"AISATS is a gender neutral, equal opportunities employer with a zero tolerance policy towards any form of harassment or discrimination at the workplace. In accordance with the
guidelines laid down by the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) at the work place, an independent committee comprising a reputed NGO, along with women representatives from stations other than Thiruvananthapuram, was constituted to investigate the complaint. However the findings of the committee were inconclusive against the accused," reads the statement. 

(This story was edited on July 27 to include official statement from AISATS.)

*Name changed to protect identity.