Alleging Sexual Harassment at AIR, Woman Begins Fast Unto Death
“I have told AIR officials that I will not eat or leave Delhi until my harassment complaint is addressed,” she said.
The Quint, in a report published on 15 April 2019, had highlighted the story of Shanti Verma, a casual announcer at All India Radio’s Obra station in UP, who alleges sexual harassment against several male employees at the public radio broadcaster.
Shanti had alleged that on two separate instances – in 2010 and 2016 – several male employees had sexually harassed her. She had also claimed that an ICC investigation into her 2016 case had led to her removal from active duty – “I haven’t been assigned a duty in three years,” she had told The Quint. The Quint had published a copy of the ICC’s fact-finding report, as also the FIR that she had filed after the alleged harassment:
Shanti had told this correspondent that she had resolved to begin a fast-unto-death on Prasar Bharati’s premises, until the investigation into her case had been re-opened and she had been reinstated with apt compensation.
“Main apni dono bacchon aur pati ko chhor ke Delhi ja rahi hu, sirf insaaf maangne (I am travelling to Delhi leaving my two kids behind simply to ask for justice),” she had told The Quint a day earlier.
However, on the night of 15 April, when Verma reportedly reached the office of Prasar Bharati in Delhi’s Sansad Marg district to present a letter of her demands to officials present there, the latter allegedly called personnel at Tilak Marg Police Station to escort her out. In a hurried text message to The Quint’s correspondent, Shanti had asked for help, claiming that she had been brought to the police station late at night and made to sit inside until 11 pm, while the cops allegedly debated how to handle the situation. They later, reportedly, took her to an NGO to lodge her for the night.
What the Police Said
When The Quint contacted the investigating officer (IO) on the case, a Sub-Inspector Iccha Ram for confirmation, the SI disconnected upon hearing the reason for the phone call. The Quint then reached out to the Station House Officer (SHO), Tilak Marg, Devendra Kumar, who denied that Shanti had been brought to the police station or detained for any period of time against her will.
“Woh toh apni marzi se aayi thi, aur apni marzi se yaha baithi thi. Humne unko detain nahi kiya. (She came to the police station of her own volition and stayed her of her own accord too. We did not detain her).”SHO Devendra Kumar, Tilak Marg Police Station
When asked whether the police had then escorted her to an NGO for boarding and lodging for the night, he denied any knowledge of the matter. Meanwhile, Shanti claimed that she had spoken to SHO Kumar on the night of 15 April and that he had facilitated the move to the NGO.
“I Will Not End My Fast Until Justice is Done”
“Maine kal raat se khaane ka ek niwala bhi nahi khaya hai aur naa hi khaungi. Jab tak yeh log insaaf nahi karte, main yaha se nahi hatne wali hu. Maine inko bata diya hai, ki ab Delhi se sirf meri laash jayegi. (I have not eaten a single morsel of food since last night and I don’t plan to. Until they (AIR) do justice by me, I will not move from its premises. I have told them I will leave Delhi only as a corpse.)”Shanti Verma
The Quint reached Prasar Bharati’s office this morning to speak to Shanti, who had been called by Prasar Bharati’s officials for a meeting, but was denied access. When this correspondent mentioned that she had come to meet Ms Verma, officials at the reception desk denied any knowledge of the matter.
Ms Verma later informed The Quint that during this meeting, she presented a letter of her demands to AIR’s officials and that the latter allegedly promised to initiate an enquiry into the matter.
“Aur kitne inquiry bithayenge aur kab tak yeh chalta rahega? Main apni aamaran anshan jaari rakhungi jab tak yeh kuch karte nahi (How many inquiries will they set up and how long will this process continue? I will continue fasting unto death, until some action is taken).”Shanti Verma
17 Sexual Harassment Cases Against AIR
Shanti’s is one of 17 sexual harassment cases that are currently pending action from AIR. In October 2018 – post the resurgence of the #MeToo movement in India – the All India Radio Casual Announcer and Comperes Union (AIRCACU) sent a letter to the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) and to the National Commission for Women (NCW), to probe a series of sexual harassment complaints that had come in from AIR stations all across the country.
The NCW, in an order passed on 17 January 2019, had directed Prasar Bharati to give a hearing to all 17 complainants and to report back to NCW with details of action taken against the accused in each case. However, after months of no action from AIR/Akash Vani/Prasar Bharati, the union once again wrote to the NCW in early April, asking the women’s commission to reopen the matter.
Shanti Verma’s case remains one of these 17; however, after months of no action, she has refused to wait.
“Mere liye sirf yeh kuch mahino ki baat nahi hai, saalon tak jhel rahi hu, bhugat rahi hu. Ab mujhe unse jawaab chahiye (For me, it isn’t just a few months – I have been living with this and suffering for years. Now I demand an answer).”Shanti Verma
NCW and Workers’ Union Promise Support
Shanti had told The Quint that she had sent a letter to NCW, WCD, Prasar Bharati, among other organisations on 3 April, notifying them of her decision to sit on the fast (The Quint had published a copy of this letter in its earlier report). When this correspondent called NCW chairperson, Rekha Sharma, to ask if she had received this letter, she said,
“We did, and we conducted a hearing and sent a letter to AIR, asking them to respond to her. The NCW wrote to AIR just three days ago.”Rekha Sharma, NCW Chairperson
When this correspondent informed her that Shanti Verma had now started her fast-unto-death in front of Prasar Bharati’s office, she expressed surprise and promised action.
“This is news to me. Where is she sitting? I’m currently out of station but I will speak to my office and ensure that an NCW official reaches out to her and goes to visit her.”Rekha Sharma, NCW Chairperson
The Quint could verify that a team from NCW, led by Rekha Sharma, did reach the spot later, to speak to Shanti, after the conversation with this correspondent.
The Quint also reached out to the AIRCACU to ask if they would extend support to Shanti in any way. The union’s General Secretary, Shabnam Khanum, said that while Shanti had not kept the union in the loop or discussed her decision with them, they would extend all nature of “moral support”.
“Yeh inka individual decision hai, par hum ek social level pe zaroor help karenge unka. 14th January ko NCW ki hearing thi – unhone AIR ko kuch directives diya jo AIR ne nahi maane hai. Abhi tak justice nahi hui hai. Kai accused ko promotions ya transfers diye gaye hai. Toh yeh sahi nahi hai. (This is Shanti’s individual decision, but we will certainly help her on a social front. The NCW had conducted a hearing on 14 January and given some directives to AIR, which the latter hasn’t followed. Justice has not been done yet. Many of the accused, in fact, have been given promotions or have been transferred. This is wrong).”Shabnam Khanum, General Secretary, AIRCACU
Shabnam Khanum also told The Quint that she would “morally support” Shanti Verma as she waits for a meeting with AIR’S DG Fayyaz Shehryar today. “I am heading to meet her right now,” she said.
Ms Khanum also reached out to this correspondent later to say that she had met Shanti outside the premises of AIR.
“A team from the NCW also reached at the same time, and we conducted a meeting with her to understand her concerns. Ms Verma has a meeting scheduled with Mr Shehryar and she will re-assert her demand for reinstating her to her post. I have asked her to also speak for the other complainants if she can.”Shabnam Khanum, General Secretary, AIRCACU
Shanti Verma continues to sit within the premises of Prasar Bharati House, awaiting word from its officials on her demands. She hasn’t broken her fast.
(The Quint also reached out to AIR’s officials through email, asking for a statement on Shanti Verma’s allegations and her fast. At the time of publication of this story, we had yet to receive a response. This story will be updated with AIR’s response once we receive it.)
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