BENGALURU: In 2016, a study by Sisters of Charity, a not-for-profit located in the United Kingdom, found that one out of seven women workers in garment factories in Bengaluru had been forced to commit a sexual act or have sexual intercourse, while one in 14 had experienced physical violence at their workplace. Two years on, while perceptions about sexual violence in workplaces is changing and more women are opening up about their experiences, the garment workers sector, mostly comprising women employees, continues to suffer.
For 31-year-old Savitha (name changed), walking into her workplace every day takes preparation. “I have to mentally calm myself down every day before I enter the unit. Besides work, I also have to plan how to avoid meeting certain male employees and tactics that can be used to ensure I am not alone with them at anytime,” she said.
Like Savitha, who works in a place with most floor-managers being male, several other units across the city also see the managerial staff comprised mainly of men.
Others like Rashmi (name changed), talk about managers blackmailing them for sexual favours. “I changed my workplace because at the previous office, the manager would repeatedly make sexual advances and when you refused to submit, he would speak to the other managers about you and ensure that you are targeted.
There was no question of approaching anyone with a complaint as they would only use some excuse to throw you out again. In my new office, we have formed a group of women who always ensure that we are seen together. Yet, there are times when the managers view us as troublemakers and try to split us up,” she said.
The Sisters of Charity survey revealed a total lack of compliance in setting up internal complaint committees as per the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act 2013 by factories operating in the Mysore Road and Peenya industrial areas of Bengaluru. While in many instances, these committees have been set up, they remain only on paper or are prejudiced towards complaints filed by workers, union members said.
“These committees are of no use. They only seek to embarrass the complainants and drag the enquiry on. We have a case currently in which the woman has complained and waited for six months for results, and they are yet to take action. Many other cases have come to our attention where the woman has been terminated on some grounds or the other. In such situations, workers choose to stay quiet about the harassment they face,” said Prathiba, president of the Garment and Textile Workers Union, Bengaluru.
With Internal Complaint Committees (ICCs) being off the table for most women, the only other option left is to approach the police. “We conduct several sessions for women workers and advice them to approach the police for serious cases where they have been harmed or there is the danger of violence. But complaints are few even though sexual harassment is rampant,” she added.