Riya, 24, works at an NGO in Delhi.
As soon as I finished my post-graduation, I started looking for work in organisations dealing with social issues. When I was selected for the post of 'Field Coordinator' in an organisation working on children's rights, I was really excited and looked forward to working there.
On the first day, I enthusiastically packed my lunch and water bottle in my bag and reached the office. I was introduced to four colleagues - two males and two females. We started training for the work together.
‘I am in love with you’
All of us had to work on a survey for children in groups of two. Vijay, one of the two male colleagues, was my partner. During our training, we began to understand and know each other better.
Eating, laughing and working together in stressful and difficult situations helped us understand each other more. A month passed and before we even knew it, we had become friends.
One afternoon, when Vijay and I were drinking tea during our break, he said, 'Riya, I like you very much or better yet I am in love with you'. The biscuit I was eating fell out my mouth as I processed the news.
I was not expecting it. 'Sorry, but I don't feel this way. Yes, it has been a good experience working with you, but for me, we’re nothing more than friends', I replied very uneasily.
But perhaps Vijay was hoping to hear something else. He stopped and without a word, got up from there and left. I also finished my work and went home.
‘Show you your place’
Vijay did not show up for the next several days. And when he did, he again told me that I should think about his proposal, adding, 'We can get married, live together and come here to work together too'.
This time my answer was very strong and clear. I told him to stop or else I will have to change my field partner. I also told him that this was the last time we were talking about this issue and that I didn’t think of him as anything more than a friend or a colleague. And if he kept up with this behaviour, I would have to report him to the management.
From that day onwards, I was uncomfortable going to the field with Vijay. I would try my best to concentrate on work and avoid paying any attention to him but every time he saw me, he would sing songs about heartbreak and send weird messages to me.
Even when I tried to talk to him about work, he would just whistle and never reply. It was getting impossible for me to tolerate him. I told him that his behaviour was very irresponsible and disrespectful and that I would not be able to work with him under these circumstances.
The same evening, Vijay, along with the other male colleague on our team - Sonu, started following me as I left the office. On the way, Sonu commented that ‘I should stop being so arrogant and just say yes to Vijay.’
I was scared and started moving quietly. Now Vijay stepped forward, pressed my shoulder and said, 'I will ruin you and show you your place'.
I pushed them both and screamed loudly, which scared them and they left. I quickly booked a cab, gave the details to my family and reached home crying.
‘Why did this happen to you?’
I shared everything with my sister and wept, saying I will never go back to work. Didi calmed me down and advised me to face them instead of stepping back, and even report this to the authorities.
This advice from didi gave me courage to move forward. Didi said that if I couldn’t stand up for today, how would I work for someone else's rights in the future!
The next day I sent an email to the management, writing about what had happened and attached all the mobile messages from Vijay, requesting for a proper action.
They referred my complaint to the Internal Complaints Committee and told me that my complaint would be seen under the purview of 'Sexual Harassment at Work Place'. They assured me and told me to be patient about the whole ordeal.
I was called to the head office and was questioned in every way. In the meantime, the Internal Complaints Committee members also asked some very strange questions - Why did this happen to you when there are so many more girls in the workplace! Do you think you gave him an opportunity to do so?
In response to these questions, I pleaded that I do not know about other girls, but I have brought this to you, and that such questions should be directed towards the men instead of me! And no human being gives anyone an opportunity to be exploited, manipulated or even harassed at the workplace.
The process of questioning continued, during which my family kept my spirits up. And I believed in justice.
Vijay, Sonu and I were called together for questioning. Waiting outside the office, both of them were sitting with their heads down. The final decision was to come that day. I was asked what I wanted.
I said that both of them should apologise to me in writing and that if both of them continue to work with this institution, it should be ensured that this does not happen again with me or anyone else.
The management told me that they investigated the matter in detail and reached the conclusion that those men, especially Vijay, were guilty on every count and even Sonu’s behaviour couldn't be left overlooked.
'We would not allow them to continue working with the institution. And in the future, they will be deprived of any work with this institution or recommended for any work done here,’ said the management.
The institution praised my action and told me that after my case, they will henceforth monitor the behaviour of the employees and avoid any such situation from arising in the future.
Vijay and Sonu's apologies may have been out of helplessness rather than remorse but I was satisfied with the punishment they received. There was also the satisfaction that those who work with them are no longer in this position of exploitation.
I had achieved this job by working very hard. I was happy that my efforts to work for the needy children could now continue in peace.
Riya* shared her story with Love Matters India for the #It’sTimeToAct campaign to mark the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. #It’sTimeToAct aims to bring to light stories of women who fought back against such violence or harassment.
To protect the identity, the person in the picture is a model and names have been changed.