Dear Miss Shuba,
We regret to inform you that as per your performance evaluation of this year we will have to terminate your employment effective immediately. This is in no regards a retaliation of your sexual harassment complaint against our senior employee. Please find attached the complete details regarding the severance pay and let us know if you have any queries.
HR Team, GEC Enterprise.
She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just three lines, but enough to make her life--the life she’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build--begin to crumble around her.
This has to be a joke, she thought, a cruel joke.
She looked around blankly not sure what to do. ‘Effective immediately’ Does she have to go right away? Go away where? This is her life! This is what she has fought her parents for, fought her husband for. She does not even have a family now because of this job. She has no children that ladies talk about at playgrounds making her feel an outsider, outcast-divorcee. She missed out on her whole normal life to be at this place and now she has to go?
The reality was unsettling, unreal. And then suddenly a seething realization came into her.
‘This is in no regards a retaliation of your sexual harassment complaint against our senior employee’
That was exactly what it was. A retaliation. She held her head in her palm. Deep down she knew this was coming. A foreboding that she should have taken seriously. She wasn’t going down so easily. No, She won’t.
She got up from her cubical and walked straight through the glass door of her HR. Manager. Mr. Moorthy sat there looking busy. He raised his finger in air gesturing her to wait for a minute, while he looked at his laptop pretending to read a very important email. He used pretentiousness to assert his authority. But it was a bad move, because his laptop was clearly reflecting on his back glass window which showed that he was losing in a game of solitaire.
“your game can wait” She said being done playing nice.
He smiled at her and said “why don’t you have a seat. There is still three hour before you last day gets over”
It was a cunning taunt, Only Mr. Moorthy could have the audacity to do that to a person he has just fired.
“What is this” She placed her laptop in front of him. He looked at it with little interest.
“Miss Subha, this is as per companies performance evaluation process. You know the rules”
“The evaluation that has been given by the person who harassed me .” She said strongly.
“Look miss Subha,That case has been closed. It’s in the past. Why would anyone retilate for a closed case”
“Looks like Mr. Shekar did just now by giving a bad evaluation report. I have got this company two new accounts. How can I be worst performer”
“Well… its all in his personal report. He said lazily tryng to search for the email on his computer but she snapped “I know all about that report. And as per that hararsment case, company did not even take my complaint seriously”
“ You got a formal aplogy.. that is very humiliating for someone who did not do anything…” He looked at her jugingly.
“Did you even read my report?” She asked him disgustingly.
“Yes, infact its right in front of me” He said and clicked on his computer “ And I have to tell you there were many inconsistancies between yours and Mr.shekar’s version. And base don that inquiry team decided to have a amicable settlement.”
“What kind of discrepancies…”
“Well the report says… On the Night of New years party, Mr. Shekar , flowed you around everywhere while being in intoxicated state. He blocked you in hallway near the rest room and asked you to kiss him on his cheekcs to wish him happy new year. When you refused he pinned you to the wall and assulted your breast singing ‘Jingle bells’ song…” He paused to give a fleeting look at he rbreast and then looked back at the laptop. It was only a second, but subha felt her eyes welding up, but she fought it back. Not hee. Never in front of them. She still remmebred that night, the warmness of his hands that never left her ever since. Not even after the cold shower, not even ice. Not even smoothing words of her other female collegues who warned her not to report anything. They were many but nobody spoke. She decided she has to and now she si paying the price. She kept her head staright and asked
“what is the discrepancy here…”
“You see,.. why would a guy sing jingle bells when its new year .. and not a Christmas party…” He said with a staright face, trying to keep his eyes at level with her.
But she knew they were searching for another fleeting look at he rbreast. This was his discrepancy. What he sang while assaulting my breast. How could anyone even respond to this? I have to give explanation of what a pervert was thining while he was assaulting me?
“He was drunk….” She said in measured tone.
“Ahh! Yes ..” He looked down at report again “ Mr. Shekar continued to mock me by singing jingle bells everytime we would be in team meetings and would pass me. It was evident he was sharing the story of assulat proudly. Creating rumors about my charater.”
“Look can I be candid with you. You are a single lady.. divorce, who dress nicely.. talk to guys nicely.. people can assume other wise. It was a party, he was drinking.. you are beautiful.. things happen. He is a good guy and our top performer. You could have easily forgiven and moved on. But you had to be insubordinate to him. You have start all this comaplain and hit the dam hornet’s nest. This was bound to happen.”
“But tell you what.. I will give you good reference. You will land a job soon.”
She came out seething.. She could not understand what was more humiliating. The hands that molested her, the knowledge that now her story was a common talk at the water break or lunch break.. or now that she was frired…because she was a bad worker anyway. She knew how office worked. Rumors about her charters were akready flowing since that day. But she let all that go. Because she had worked this hard to get at this place. But now she had nothing.
She got home and lay staring at her wall dejectedly. She could call her parents, but they would only end up saying I told you so. She felt the hands of every peson that gave her that sly smile, that rubbed past her in meeting rooms, that looked below her neck line , on her breast. They all were laughing and molesting her right now and she could not even scream, because it would just drown in their laughter. How can she speak louder then them all. How can she when her own friends would not dare to open up their mouth. Won’t come toagther to help. She was fianally at a place her husabdn told her she would be. A heartless, motherless lonely divorcee. She suddenly layghed. Because she never used to belove in prophecy, especially not from an emotionally abusive husaband.
She closed her eyes for brief moment and then got up determined. She logged into jobs online site and started searching for jobs. She had spent seven hours on the injustice done to her by today, four years to the injustice done to her by his husband and sixteen years of mis opportunities due to her parents. She wouldn’t be sparing a single more minute on the things that did not worked out. She had wasted too little time trying to fit into someone else definition of perfect. So she left him and she came to this city much to the shame of her parents. The black sheep of their family , a divorcee and tag that will be carried by other sisters in her family. Will be use dto measure their charcter. So many people had given up so much for what she was right ow. She owed to all of them and to the possible- in the hopeful future- daughter that she will have one day to do something. To take a step.
Did shekhar’s wife knew what he did? She should just drop a email to her with all this. create havoc in his life, why should only she suffer? But will that change anything, hitting in covers wrapped in shame , dropping a lone email to the wife, whose email address she did not know. No, she wanted to scream but into closed quarters, but in open places, to people with sans eyecontact. To call out to the people nobody else would.
May be because it was that she was follish or because she just felt suffocated that she opened her blog and started writing about everything that happened instead of searching a job quietly. Moving on the way she did always.
And she wrote every detail that was just a rumor uptill now, a office gossip, a coffe break joke on her blog. Each humiliating detail, every look was documented in her blog. Did she took a second before clicking that post? Was their a vauge hesitation? Did all thoses people who looked at her from the corner of the eyes held her hands to stop her from posting it? NO they did not, because they did not cared in their confident carelessness, their insults, their mocking. If it was their it was replaced by a cold determination in her eyes and she clicked the button.
Now everyone in the world saw what happened to her in their mind, replaying each details with their little own version of incident. She shut her eyes and close doff her laptop. It was done. She was too tired to think what people would be thinking right now.How they would be imaging her right now. She was tired because she had fough long and hard and so that day she slept peacefully.
One day she will have voice, one day she wouldn’t have to scream to be heard.
There was absolute quite the next day. So she gave her that. Her phone was ringing. It was that call that she ha dreaded. From her parents. Probably waiting to tell her how much disgrace she has brough to the family. She kept it rining the whole next day. It was time to get back on her feet again now since she felt lighter telling people what had happened.
So she took whole week to plan rest of her futire. She had eough to stay aflot for next one year, with the serverance pay. She worked on her resume and searched online for jobs keeping strictly away from her online post. She has to stop caring what people think to move forward. It was by the end was one week that her phone had started to ring off. Potential job recuriters, subha thought. Wasn’t it too soon?
She picked up her phone whne suddenly a message popped up. It was from Shekhar. Unwillingly her heart missed a beat. Did he read her blog? Is he aplogigising? A faint optimist inside her refused to die. She opned the message.
“I am going you take legal action against your stunt on internet. Take down your blog or You will go for long time in defamation case you whore!
She shut off her phone and threw it away on her bed. Her hands shaking. This is not happening. They wnate dto beat he rto the ground. She could never come out of this mess. She should have stayed quite, kept her head down, kept her mouth shut! But she never listens. This fight was bigger than her ego. She cannot take it.
She deiced it was time to be grown up. Time to take the beating and accept that nothing can be done against them.
She logged into her computer to take down her blog . To erase it forever but then as soon as she logged in her fingers stopped and her brows looked at the screen in mild confusion. Like a child looking at something new for the first time. There were 20,000 repost of her blog. The twitter account where she had shared it had exploded with comments. At first as she began to read it she expected them to critize her, shame her, but they had shamed the culprit. It was comments of support, solance and support that shocked her. A few that brough her disgrace drowned in the heap of messages that shared their stories, from other offices . And then came some from the same office. The one from the girl who sits on second floor, different guy. A lady in legal department from GEC shared what happened to her on same night by another employee.
Her heart was thumping so hard that it was becoming hard to concentrate on the screen. Could it have been some kind of crule joke? Could it. She was crying because she was not sued to support, she did not know how to recvie it.
She cluched her pillow and cried. Cried while reading it , then smiled knowing that she was never travelling alone in her journey. Their were many, so many that had been their, who thought like her, who felt heavy in their chest.
She was so lost in her europiha that it startled her when the bell rang in her house. Who could it be? Shekhar? No he just send her that defamation threat on phone?
She looked thorugh the peep hole and found some ladies dressed in smart kuri. She opened the door tentatively.
“HI” She said still looking at them through half opebed door , secured by the chain lock.
“HI, Miss Subha?” They enquired with a small smile.
“Yes” she aid and somehow felt confident to open the full door.
“We are from Womens’s power NGO. We are here to contact to you in reagrds of your sexual harassment incident” They way they said that word without an ounce of shame gave shuba a dignity to welcome them into their home without prejudice.
They sat and introduced themselves. How they have been dealing with women who found them seles in tough situation and how they provide legal guidance eto them.
“How did you get to know about me?” Shubha asked. Could it have been that her blog reached them? How did they know my home address then?
They smiled “ The other ladies in your office gave us your address. Some of them who had similar experiences contacted us and told that you would be willing to pursue the court case.”
“Were they all harrsed by Shekahr?” She asked surprised.
“No, by different people in the same office..” They said. Subha looked at them confused.
“So how can we all pursue a case against the person who asuslte dme”
“We are not filing case against shekhar miss Subha, we are suing the GEC company, For failing to provode it’s female employee’s a safe working place…”
Subha stared at them in disbelief. A case against the whole company? Was it that prelevant. And nobody ever knew about it?
They looked at the confused face and smiled “ Your blog kind of started a fire..the way it was so openly stated , it connected with other victims and they decided to come toagther. There is something about openly accepting what has happened to you. It brings people toagther. It tell sthem that it is not one off case. That it was prevelant and spereading. And until they do something, it will not change” She spoke with a pride , like someone has to the one who took the step they had hoped for long to be takne by someone.
She no longer had to scream above the laugh of others, because her voice was not alone now.
The lady smiled at her and said “ You have kind of hit the hornet’s nest. We are going to make them pay”
And I think, it was after a long time that subha felt the warmth of accomaion