Updated: March 4, 2021 7:56:15 am
The allegations against a senior Tamil Nadu police officer of sexual harassment of an IPS officer, and, worse, of attempting to intimidate her into not filing a complaint, are a particularly brazen example of the impunity and male entitlement that poisons workplaces for women. Coming soon after a salutary judgment in the Priya Ramani vs MJ Akbar case, in which a former editor tried and failed to use the criminal defamation law to silence allegations of sexual harassment against him, it is a sobering reminder of the endemic violations of women at the workplace.
The details of the IPS officer’s ordeal, according to her complaint, are deeply unsettling. She boarded her senior colleague’s car on his invitation while on duty, when the Special DGP allegedly held and kissed her hands, and made her sing, even when she objected to his attempts to do so. When she was on her way to Chennai to meet the state home secretary, three IPS officers called her to dissuade her from filing a complaint — allegedly at her assailant’s behest. A posse of police officials barricaded her way with a police car to stop her from reaching Chennai. The appalling chain of events — almost out of a script of a potboiler — has not only led to a probe by the CID, but also led the Madras High Court to take suo motu notice.
Like in most cases of sexual harassment, this too lays bare the unequal power equations in professional spaces. That her colleagues in the police force physically obstructed her from filing a complaint also exposes what is not acknowledged enough: That most workplaces are structured around male authority and deeply invested in maintaining the status quo. The mechanism of internal complaints committees enshrined in sexual harassment laws often founders on this very inequality — as the #MeToo movement has often brought home. As the HC pointed out, while deciding to monitor the probe, “The accused is a high-ranking police official of the very same state police force which is stated to be investigating this case.” The police, across India, remains a masculinised institution. But the Tamil Nadu police has one of the highest percentages of women personnel and women officers in the country. The assault on a senior officer, therefore, is also a test of its commitment to making the force a safe space for women. Justice for the IPS officer and punishment for flagrant sexual misconduct is a necessary step in that direction.