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#MeToo hits All India Radio stations, Maneka calls for probe

Several cases of alleged mishandling of sexual harassment complaints have come forward from different AIR stations in the wake of the recent #MeToo revelations.

Written by Shalini Nair | New Delhi |
Updated: January 18, 2021 10:28:24 am
#MeToo hits All India Radio stations, Maneka calls for probe Woman and Child Development (WCD) Maneka Gandhi. (Express File Photo by Prem Nath Pandey/File)

Union Minister for Woman and Child Development (WCD) Maneka Gandhi has asked the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to probe the series of sexual harassment complaints from All India Radio (AIR) stations across the country, following a letter written last week by the All India Radio Casual Announcer and Comperes Union (AICACU).

Several cases of alleged mishandling of sexual harassment complaints have come forward from different AIR stations in the wake of the recent #MeToo revelations. In these cases, which have occurred over the last few years, the victims — all casual women employees, some of them working for two decades — have not got any assignment since they complained.

All accused are permanent staffers — some of them were transferred, others got an all-clear. Incidentally, the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) in these cases comprised of permanent staffers.

Also read | Maneka Gandhi urges political parties to set up panels to probe sexual harassment

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In its letter to Gandhi, AICACU pointed out that “casual Announcers/Comperes/Radio Jockeys of AIR” find it difficult to “raise voice against any kind of suppression, harassment, injustice caused by the officials, as they always work under fear of losing the job. Female casual workers, who complain of sexual harassment are removed from the job and their witnesses whether males or females are also targeted the same way”

The Indian Express spoke to women who have alleged sexual or mental harassment in AIR stations in Shahdol and Sagar in Madhya Pradesh, Obra in Uttar Pradesh, Kurukshetra in Haryana, and Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh.

In the Shahdol case, two women, who didn’t want to be named, spoke of how a senior subjected them and many others to lewd words and gestures, grabbing, and sexual advances.

Shanti Verma (43), a casual announcer for two decades at AIR Obra, alleged that station head G P Nirala would rub against her and once commented on her breasts. The ICC concluded that nothing of that sort had happened. Verma’s duty was cancelled. Nirala didn’t respond to calls and messages.

Jyoti Pathania, 45, could barely make ends meet with the Rs 1300 she was paid per session for a total of six sessions every month. Her passion for radio, she said, was the reason behind her two-decade stint at AIR Dharamshala. However, she has not been assigned any duty since August 20, 2016, she said, when she was allegedly molested by station head Suresh Kumar.

Also read | The #MeToo tracker by The Indian Express

“I was in the dubbing room when the lights suddenly went off. My boss Suresh Kumar pulled up a chair near me, grabbed and kissed me. I froze. Once the lights came on, I started my recording in a state of shock and he left. I finally broke down crying when the woman, who was to relieve me from my duty, arrived,” said Pathania.

She filed a police complaint and another formal complaint with AIR. An ICC was formed of people from her own station all of whom reported to Kumar. She refused to depose. Another committee was formed in Jalandhar. “I had to bear the cost of travelling to Jalandhar thrice, until I finally refused to go anymore. Their report said that he is not guilty of sexual harassment. My duties have been stopped since then.”

When contacted, Kumar, currently in AIR Hasimpur, said: “The matter is in court. She has a problematic behaviour and is targeting an honest officer. She has no right to employment as being a casual employee her work is only on assignment basis.”

Samta Jhudeley, 49, working with AIR Sagar since 2000, said that she was not assigned any duty since March 2016 when she complained of mental harassment and intimidation by station director Alok Ray and three other men. “I wrote to I&B Ministry about it after which an ICC team was sent from Shahdol. They ruled there is no sexual harassment.” Ray, with AIR Sagar, said: “The case is closed and all allegations were found to be fabricated.”

In Kurukshetra, two woman casual employees have not been assigned any duties after they raised a complaint of mental harassment against seniors in 2014.

AICACU General Secretary Shabnam Khanam said the matter of the “double victimisation” of woman casual employees — sexual harassment and loss of job — has not been resolved despite repeated letters to Prasar Bharati and I&B Ministry.

Asked about AIR’s handling of sexual harassment complaints from woman casual employees, Prasar Bharti CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati said, “It will be difficult for me to react unless we see the specific cases and have a factual summary of cases.”

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