What Your Anti Sexual Harassment Policy Should Look Like (But Does Not)


Welcome to this guide for designing anti sexual harassment policies for your workplace or educational institutions that I would like to call, “Believe Survivors” or more colloquially, “Fuck Patriarchy”.

In any other scenario I would have started out writing this article by establishing context, by building a reference to recent news pieces that highlighted how men are getting away with sexually harassing women, but do I really need to? I know that each of you reading this has had an incident come to mind as soon as you started reading this, either one that is personal or one that you read or heard about.

1. Start with following the law. Sexual harassment at the workplace and at educational institutions is illegal (as are all other forms of sexual harassment, even if conviction rates in India would lead you to believe otherwise). The law outlines what constitutes such harassment and details redressal mechanisms to be followed within the organisation for addressing such complaints. For survivors reading this, you can directly go to the police too, the internal mechanism is an alternative that you get to choose – not one that is meant to be imposed upon you

2. Now let’s get real, the law will not solve everything, you will have to. You cannot have a compliant legal system in place on one hand and perpetrate an environment that is sexist and inbred with hallmarks of rape culture. Breakdown the boys club vibe that you have going, shut down that joke about rape – it is never funny, don’t ask a female colleague to dress up “sexy” for a client meeting. Really, stop.

3. Gender sensitisation and anti sexual harassment trainings are a great long term solution and are very necessary, but survivors should not have to go through what they do in the pursuit of this long term goal. Start penalising. Take away jobs, promotions, social capital. Don’t invite speakers that have sexually harassed someone and not been penalised for it. Don’t hire such staff. Take away a prestigious student position if that student sexually harasses someone. Make it clear that the organisation won’t stand for sexual harassment and that there will be real life consequences.

4. What about people in your organisations that perpetrate sexual violence outside of your organisation? Apply the same principles to them. Make it known that you will not tolerate any sexual harassment, even if penetrated outside your organisation, and that this would be a valid reason for penalising them. Try and provide support to those survivors when you can as well, very often they will be partners or spouses of those working at your organization.

5.How do you decide the lines with regard to sexual harassment and flirtations at educational institutions and workplaces when most people meet new people at such settings? It’s quite simple really, you make the consent principle clear before you even hire a person. You need to make sure that everyone at the organisation knows a basic rule, that of asking before proceeding with anything other than a friendship. And before you ask, asking for consent never ruins a “moment”, even if it does, consent trumps everything. Start advocating for an explicit, enthusiastic yes rather than the mere absence of a no.

6. Ensure that there are protective measures for when someone at your organisation raises a complaint with regard to being sexually harassed. The perpetrator knows who they have harassed, they mostly have the contact details and other private information about that person. In work and educational setups they are often people in more senior positions, ergo those with more power, more money, more reach. There is nothing to say that someone who sexually harasses another person won’t harass them further in other ways when that person reports them.

7. In case the survivor chooses to take legal action via the criminal justice system, support them, do not alienate them.

8. What aftercare measures do you have? Do you even have aftercare measures? Even when survivors are able to secure justice through the legal procedure, they tend to leave that place of work in a few months. The place can often be a reminder of what survivors have been through. Ensure that you provide them with free mental healthcare and rally support and funds for any other form of financial or physical care they may require. Give them time off, give them control over their surroundings, let them decide – support their decisions. If they do decide to leave, help them transition to another job, do not make the sexual harassment they have faced a part of what you communicate to their new workplace without their consent.

9. Reporting is not something that a survivor owes you. Stop putting the onus of prevention of sexual harassment in the future on the survivor by using that to pressurise the to report. Their experiences and their story is their own to tell. It is your job to build a culture that prevents such acts from even happening. Also, do not blame them or penalise them for reporting after a certain duration of time. Yes, reporting is extremely important for a multitude of reasons, but do not shift the narrative and the responsibility of prevention on the survivor.

Don’t just preach these measures verbally or use them to market your organisation. Write this down. Make it part of your company policy and thereby an actual part of your workplace culture. Make these rights tangible and actionable. Include this in your HR policy and make sure each new hire is informed extensively of these norms and knows the consequences of violating them. A survivor shouldn’t have to be dependent on your goodwill for knowing that they will receive support and care: it should be, and is, their right.

Vandita Morarka has worked towards addressing sexual violence for the past 3 years. She has undertaken trainings for sensitisation for over 20,000 persons directly, provided legal aid to survivors of sexual violence, built leadership to tackle sexual violence at institutions, and has designed policy-legal solutions for preventing sexual violence and ensuring justice in the face of sexual violence. She is the Founder and CEO of One Future Collective, Tweets @vanditamorarka

Featured image: Erwan Hesry

Mapping and negotiating power

Uncuff India Episode 10: Dimensions of conflict and peace: visioning a utopian world

Uncuff India Episode 9: Civic space and dissent: A pathway to social justice

The Question of Public Space in a Democracy


Public spaces represent areas which are open and accessible to all people residing regardless of gender, age, race, and ethnicity. Public spaces represent familiarity, safety and accessibility. In India, though compromised in many respects, public spaces have lent themselves to the changing conversation on many occasions.

For instance, Delhi University’s North Campus found its walls and footpaths painted with ‘Pinjra Tod’ for its namesake campaign which aimed at fighting against sexist college and hostel directives. Earlier this year, farmers marched from all over Maharashtra to Mumbai to draw attention to agrarian difficulties and the fallacies of government action. Both issues are starkly different from each other but are essential to the democratic process as a whole. Their discussion and realization depends on the democratic ability to voice their dissent and the physical possibility of galvanizing like-minded forces in public spaces. But again, campaigns, protests and the quintessential Indian bandh are not the only pictures public space paints. Public spaces are essential because they are safe and familiar common spaces. They have to be open to all, accessible by all without fear or discomfort.

The Pinjra Tod Movement (Youth Ki Awaaz)

How does public space affect democracy?

Public spaces are deceptively simple. Streets, parks, markets and maidans don’t just exist for their immediate value of enabling shopping, walking, sitting or transporting. They serve a much more fundamental purpose in cementing the community together. Public spaces foster democracy because they are spaces where people can come together. Any functional democracy survives on the independence and vigilance of its people. Democracies thrive when there is political, civil and social accessibility. Public space is the physical embodiment of such accessibility. Public space impacts democracy because of the following fundamental characteristics:

  1. Public spaces are enablers of free speech, dissent and dialogue. Right from our independence movements under colonial rule to our present day political protests, democracy and access to justice has grown only from uninhibited access to public spaces.
  2. The connection between the two is not just the physical possibility of a meeting place. Public space catalyses change because it allows communities to come together to develop a collective voice. This creates an inclusive atmosphere conducive for meaningful and impactful dialogue. There is a significant psychological impact that movements brought out into public fora have.
  3. Public spaces are transformative. This allows them to be inclusive and accessible. Public spaces are able to lend themselves to different contexts for different sets of people. Be it the candlelit marches in the wake of the disastrous 26/11 terror attacks or the raging protests following the 2012 gang rape, public spaces lend themselves to change and dissent that is essential to democracy.

In India, where our population far outruns our land, making our peace with the dearth of space is a necessity. However there isn’t just a lack of physical land that taints our need for better public spaces, it is also that oftentimes these spaces are unsafe and uncomfortable to minority individuals who access them. Take for instance women and public space. Women access public space with a purpose, be it work, travel or meetings. They rarely languish in public at odd hours especially without company.

The idea that public space fosters democracy is one that can be met only when individual citizens have complete trust in the safety and security of their public spaces. Dissent and dialogue cannot take place in an environment where public spaces are not held to the same standards as the democracy is. Public spaces are ultimately essential to any growing community. For a heterogeneous society to function peacefully, it is necessary to build spaces conducive for social mixing, inclusion, civic participation and political freedom.

Priyanshi Vakharia is a Research Associate (Legal Reform) at One Future Collective.

Image credit: Scroll.in

Mapping and negotiating power

Uncuff India Episode 10: Dimensions of conflict and peace: visioning a utopian world

Uncuff India Episode 9: Civic space and dissent: A pathway to social justice

War Stories | An Account of Partition


War Stories is a monthly column by Sara Sethia that intends to account war experiences and stories, both first hand and others, across borders in an effort to propagate peace activism.

Warning: this piece contains sensitive information which may trigger certain readers.

The Indian Independence Struggle and the Partition that ensued is often narrated as a matter of great pride- more so as a story of imponderable human resilience and boundless patriotism, an exemplar of the ideals of liberty, humanity and peace.

Time and again, as our classrooms and our history lessons talk about victories and deaths, enemies and foes, as we blur the boundaries of those to be loved and those to be despised, these stories about the ugliest facets of human paradoxes will be lost under the garb of superficial ideals and unfounded euphoria. If we shy away from accepting the brute reality of what we lost in all those wars that we won, peace will continue to be a burden, a bloated pouch of words flung from one nation to another until the remnants from the trampled humanity taint it into a tale of invisibility.

This account is one from the deep recesses that haunts the glorious story of Independence. It’s a manifestation of one of the many costs of the Partition in 1947.

Communal disharmony and riots between the Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus was at the helm at that time. Muslims and Sikhs, who had been amicable neighbours since aeons, grew suspicious of each other and were later, raging with fury about the other’s existence. Beautiful evenings that they once spent with each other in the by-lanes of the village or near the wells, were now shrouded in war cries.

In March 1947, Sikh villages in the vicinity of Rawalpindi were assaulted by Muslim mobs. People in the villages were astonished. As “Allah O Akbar” raged through the skies and hands lifting weapons conspicuously occupied the peaceful skies, everyone wondered at the sudden turn of events. Several generations of their families had peacefully coexisted in the village. This was new.

Soon the mob approached a village. One of the members of the mob assured the Sikhs that the mob would return from their village without causing any harm if and only if the Sikhs handed over a girl from the village to them.

Sikh women in the village were forced into hiding. Ber Bahadur Singh was a teenager, who too was forced into hiding with the rest of the villagers. As the circumstances worsened, Ber Bahadur Singh’s father decided to take action.

He called his daughter, Maan. She obediently sat in front of him, her back facing his face. He raised his sword to strike her head off but missed. She brought her braid forward. Her father struck her with his sword and her head rolled on the ground.

One after the other, men began striking the heads off the women of their family to protect their ‘honour’ because they feared that the mobs would kidnap their women, force them to convert their religion and rape them. Preposterously, there were no cries, no commotion- only the dreadful noise of swords cutting through the air and striking the heads of women.

Tears well up in Ber Bahadur Singh’s eyes as he recalls this incident, an incident that continues to haunt him even in his senility.

However, what makes me shudder with fear and anguish is that Ber Bahadur Singh’s YouTube video, which seems to be the only testimonial of this incident online, is titled “How Sikhs saved their women from Muslim Mobs during Partition of 1947”.

Women. Honour.

That day is a reminder of why I as a person can never regard the Partition as a manifestation of liberty. The mob believed that there was no better way to insult the Sikhs than to rape their women. The Sikhs believed that murdering women in such a situation was the most honourable death for them. These women were reduced to mere objects of honour for men to decide their fates according to convenience.

Love. Loss.

They were happy families. They were happy communities. Yet, their lives were obliterated in an instant. A loss that no glory could supplant. Their lives would be jarred with memories of their wives’ hair gorgeously flowing over her face, of her eyes which made their day. Dreams would bring back dreadful memories of the times when their nights were replete with their sister’s endless chatter or their mother’s stories. It was and is dreadful because all that was once mellifluous is now tainted with the noise of swords chopping their heads.

What was saved and what was lost is an inexplicable beat in the deepest recesses of their hearts; hearts that know they didn’t want what they did; hearts that wished they hadn’t known honour; hearts that wish the war never came.

Disclaimer: Before you develop an opinion about which community is evil or bad, remember that there are stories in the hidden folds of history that may smash your judgements in an instant. It’s not who wronged whom — the war has left no hands clean. It’s about why we wronged the people we were supposed to love, the people who were not ‘others’ due to the difference in their religions or nations. It is rather about why war compels us to throw into oblivion the relationships we shared and the humanity we swore by.

Sara Sethia is a Research Associate (Gender Justice) at One Future Collective.

Featured image: Washington Post


Mapping and negotiating power

Uncuff India Episode 10: Dimensions of conflict and peace: visioning a utopian world

Uncuff India Episode 9: Civic space and dissent: A pathway to social justice