Calling the #MeToo movement as a “watershed moment occurring across the country and the world”, the Tata Group said today that they “hear” Anjuli Pandit and “recognise the opportunity to raise the bar”.
The Group was responding to a report in The Indian Express on former staffer Pandit’s allegations of sexual harassment against former Taj Hotels CEO and MD Rakesh Sarna and that she knocked on many doors but few heard.
The Indian Express report had pointed out how Sarna was also on Taj Hotel’s Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) internal committee, leaving Pandit with no option but to approach the senior management at Tata Sons, a step, she said, that eventually cost her her job in November 2015.
In her piece in The Indian Express, also published Thursday, Pandit said “my experience at Tata derailed all my professional and personal life goals” forcing her to change “career paths, move countries, and cry, a lot”.
Months after her resignation, when she refused to sign a letter stating that she quit “purely on personal reasons”, Tata Sons set up a second committee to look into her complaint. While Pandit deposed before the second committee in August 2016, she said that she has still not received a copy of the panel’s report.
Yesterday, in an email response to The Indian Express, IHCL (Taj Hotels) spokesperson said: “The matter referred to in your mail was investigated and dealt with by an appropriate independent committee constituted for this purpose.”
Today, in a second email, a Tata Group spokesperson said that the hearing with Pandit was held under the “Tata Code of Conduct”. The spokesperson said, “Every complaint matters, and each matter is investigated with the highest care and respect, through a rigorous process established under the Tata Code of Conduct. We have always taken decisive action on evidence of inappropriate conduct in the organization.”
Incidentally, it is the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) at Workplace Act 2013 that applies to complaints like Pandit’s — rather than any “code’ adopted by a company — and mandates certain processes including that the complainant be given a copy of the report within a stipulated time.
The Tata spokesperson added, “The matter regarding Ms Pandit was investigated by an appropriate independent committee. The findings were informed to Ms Pandit by a former director of IHCL.”
But Pandit reiterated that she is yet to get the report. “Since the hearing in August 2016, I repeatedly chased them for a copy of the report. All I was told is that I should drop the case now and we should all move on. It was made very clear that they didn’t want to conclude the report. The very next day, I was shocked to see an article in a financial paper stating that Rakesh Sarna has been given a clean chit in the sexual harassment case,” she said.
National Commission for Women Chairperson Rekha Sharma called the company’s refusal to hand over Pandit a copy of its probe report as “totally illegal”. “The survivor can approach us and we will direct the firm to hand over the report to her,” said Sharma.
Sharma pointed out that the current composition of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) under POSH fails to protect survivors whose perpetrators are higher up in the organisational structure as in case of Sarna.
“When the sexual harassment complaint is against the top-most person and the committee members report to him, most of the time the decision of the committee members is according to that of the top-most person. This is the main lacuna in the law,” she said, adding that one possible solution is to have more external members and experts in the ICC, especially when it comes to the ICC chairpersons so that they cannot come under the pressure of superiors within the firm.
In its reply, Tata Sons also added that it has “zero tolerance policy when it comes to harassment of any kind”. It said, “We must all acknowledge the pivotal position that corporate workplaces play in promoting inclusive and empowering environments. The role of women in the workforce and participation in decision-making structures is mission-critical for our future.”