This Indian Journalist Shared Her #MeToo Story Years Before It Was A Phenomenon
- IWB Post
- October 10, 2018
If we take a look back while hailing the #MeToo wave as it finally rises in India, we will realise why it was long overdue. The understanding of workplace harassment and power dynamics were almost alien and even then if by chance somebody dared to raise a voice it was systematically shut down.
Such was the workplace scenario when journalist Rina Mukherji’s #MeToo story happened way ahead of its time in 2002.
“Sexual harassment was rampant in Mumbai. But hardly any positive steps were taken by organisations to stem them. Mumbai was swarmed with several known characters who thought nothing of making lewd comments about women,” she said recollecting the times, in an interaction with InUth.
In the interaction, she shared how it all transpired. It was right after her daughter’s birth that Mukherji got a job at The Statesman in Kolkata. She was really glad as the city seemed relatively safe for women with hardly any cases of street harassment. However, she was in for a rude shock as one of her seniors started making sexual advances at her.
She shared the entire account in an interaction with Open Magazine in 2014. She said, “The first couple of weeks were fine, with everyone making me feel welcome and part of the team. About ten days into the job, I noticed the news coordinator Ishan Joshi looking for opportunities to touch me. When I walked down office corridors, Joshi would dash into me and paw me as he walked past. He would also touch me whenever I was with him in his room. Technically, he was my boss’ boss; I reported to the Chief Reporter who in turn reported to the News Coordinator. I started avoiding him as far as I could. His moves only got bolder. He would try putting his arms around me even as he talked of work. Pushing him away, as I always did, would not deter him.”
Joshi only got bolder and bolder as time progressed. After a while, his misdemeanors found their way to the newsroom “in full view of everyone.” Remember, it was a time when women were asked to either forgive or forget such incidents or worse, were made to pay for raising such complaints against their seniors. Thus, Mukherji thought it wise to keep mum, fearing that the complaint would backfire.
However, as Mukherji refused to succumb to the constant harassment at the hands of Joshi, the only way he could find to get even with her was to question her professional credibility. She said in the same Open Magazine interview, “The number of rejected stories shot up in August and by September anything and everything I wrote was indiscriminately rejected.”
Once Mukherji decided that she has had enough and gathered the courage to share it all with her friends, she felt empowered and decided to file a formal complaint. As predicted, she was asked to step down from her role at the organisation after devoting 15 years to it and when she refused to do so, her employment was terminated on October 12, 2002, with immediate effect.
To add to it, her professional reputation was tarnished. The unemployment took a toll on her as depression started to kick in. She thus decided to seek justice and started reaching out to NGOs and journalists within the fraternity.
Her complaint was then picked up by Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) Bengal, which then worked to share her experience and bring attention to it. “The resultant negative publicity probably forced the institution to form a sexual harassment committee by The Statesman in both its Kolkata and Delhi offices, a first for a media house in both cities,” she shared in the interview.
She added, “Between 2004 and 2013, I lost more than three years due to the transfer or promotion of different judges. Speaking up against a frustrating system can also work against a complainant. As a result, I have had to contend with two defamation suits—one civil and another criminal—filed against me by Ishan Joshi and The Statesman in Kolkata and Delhi respectively. This has meant shuttling between two cities and three suits, leaving me little time for work.”
Finally, the Industrial Tribunal ruled in favour of Mukherji’s labour suit against the management of The Statesman, Kolkata On February 6, 2013. She also won the criminal defamation suit following a verdict by the Patiala House court in New Delhi on September 18 this year.
“We were denied opportunities to report on politics, business, sports, or whatever. Earlier, it was just lifestyle, culture and fashion that came our way,” she says, recollecting the sexism back in the day. Thus, she is really happy about the #MeToo storm which is finally brewing up in India.