It was around 1.30 PM after lunch hours when HR manager Harish got a call from Production manager from packing department on first floor of this manufacturing unit, that Rambir has been slapped by Sushila, a woman employee in front of all in packing hall after heated exchange of words and some scuffle between the two.
By the time Harish could reach to the spot where production manager was also there, packing operations came to stand still. Female and male were sitting separately in different directions.
The issue was all about keeping the food waste (leftover vegetables and food pieces and packing papers etc.) in garbage drum kept there for the purpose by Sushila, which she refused and after taking her meal, threw the food packet waste on the floor nearby where other employees were to do packaging work manually. Rambir Rambir intervened and asked Sushila to pick up the left over waste and put in earmarked drum so that hygiene is maintained at workplace. Rambir also reminded of her habit of not leaving the food packet waste in drum and throwing here and there in spite of asking her daily.
The most of the women working in packing operations of the company product were contract labour and used to bring their home made food. They take their food collectively during the lunch time at the workplace sitting in small circles at floor. While all clean the workplace floor by throwing all leftover waste in earmarked drums, Sushila was not in habit of doing so. She was little arrogant, outspoken, using unparliamentarily language with her colleagues even and this was the reason she was not liked by many including male and female workers. She was wife of the union leader of the factory. Contractor and HR manager thought of obliging him by employing his wife in packing section so that no unnecessary issues are raised by him in routine and create disturbance. The main objective was of buying peace. Contractor also complained of her behaviour to Harish earlier also but he was advised to avoid small things and carry along somehow with her.
On investigating about the details of incident from eye witnesses, what transpired was that when Rambir Rambir came to hall after lunch, saw food remains wrapped in papers lying here and there, he asked Sushila why she did not throw in garbage drum in spite of reminding her every day to which she replied, it was job of sweeper and not her.
The conversation somewhat happened like this as told by others to Harish :
"Tumne aaj phir ye kachra khana kha kar yahi chodh diya''? (You gave up the garbage again today after taking your lunch?) Asked Rambir.
"Kachra saaf karne ka kaam sweeper ka hai, hamara nahi". (Cleaning the garbage is the work of sweeper and not her's) Replied Sushila.
"Galat baat.. chalo seat se utho aur apne app dal kar aao drum mein. Baki log bhi toh dalte hain" (It is wrong .. Let's get up from the seat and put your waste remains in the drum. The rest also do of their own.) Rambir tried to counsel Sushila.
"Nahi..main nahi karoongi..main sweeper nahi hoon.. baki honge". (No I will not know. I am not sweeper. Others may be.) Sushila argued with Rambir and refused.
"Tum galat bol rahi ho.. utho nahi toh jabardasti utha kar ye kachra dalwaaonga.." (You are talking nonsense. Just get up otherwise I will make you get up forcefully to put this waste by you) Rambir became little tough.
"Karke dekho jabardasti..haath lagakar dikhao..batati hoon tere ko.." (You dare to do it forcefully, just dare to touch me, will out you in your place) Sushila challenged Rambir.
Rambir asked other female colleagues to force her to pick up the litter and throw in garbage drum. Other female colleagues persuaded her to do that and don't make it issue but Sushila did not budge. Her colleagues moved her with little push and in that process Sushila picked up the food waste packet and pointed to throw on the face of Rambir instead of garbage drum. Rambir tried to escape and in that process he caught of her hand and bend towards her own face. This infuriated Sushila and she slapped him, shouted that how he dared to caught of her hand and touch her body.
This was unexpected for all. Female colleagues intervened, caught hold of Sushila, male workers pushed Rambir apart and there was an unruly scene. Sushila started crying and alleged that Rambir was in habit of harassing her by finding fault in her work. She was pressurized many times to re-do the packing of product pieces done by her thus consuming more time and causing her financial loss in terms of less incentive.
Rambir felt humiliated, went downstairs and reported the matter to production manager. In the mean time Sushila directed all females to stop the work. Male workers quietly sat in corner. Realising that she may be isolated on the incident, Sushila called her husband from the production department and complained of sexual harassment by Rambir.
Production manager and HR manager Harish were there on the scene. Union leader, her husband demanded that the Rambir must be terminated immediately otherwise packing department will not work and his wife will take all possible legal action against the company and supervisor.
Both production manager and Harish asked him to go back to his station and they were there to resolve the matter. He was also advised to take her wife to home today on paid leave so that situation becomes become normal and preliminary inquiry is conducted. Union leader did not agree to this and rather chose to call the police. Police reached the factory, got the complaint of Sushila and took away Rambir to police station for further investigation. Police also asked Sushila to reach police station.
Somehow, on persuasion, work restarted but there were clear signs of dissatisfaction on the faces of workers. There was clear opinion that Sushila was at fault and she abused her position of being a woman and leveled false allegations against Rambir. By and large Rambir was perceived as disciplined, fair and collaborative officer who used to help all in times of trouble. He was respected by everyone and there were no earlier complaints of any kind against him.
In the late evening Harish came to know that Rambir was arrested on the basis of the Sushila's complaint. Next day he would be produced in court and will be released on personal bond. Police concluded that there was no substance in charge of sexual harassment but they registered the matter of breach of peace and law and order against Rambir.
Coming under pressure from union leader husband of woman, Production manager and Harish both made up their mind to terminate the supervisor Rambir to ensure that production does not hamper.
On first working day after the incident, when Rambir reported for duty after release by court, he was called by Harish. He was informed about his termination in the morning itself. The message was spread in whole plant within minutes and even before lunch break, Harish got the message that all supervisors were coming to him to meet and protest the decision of termination of Rambir.
Harish informed the plant head about the development. He called the production manager also. When all were discussing the issue, plant head was informed that all supervisors were waiting outside the meeting room to meet him.
Plant head thought it better to call all of them inside the meeting room. All came in and without speaking anything, they put up collective resignation of all supervisors against the decision of termination of Rambir. One out of them told that it was becoming difficult to work under such circumstances. They were not here to get a slap from female worker and also go to jail , getting defamed in public as the news also got published in newspaper and circulated in social media by her husband only because that one supervisor wanted to maintain discipline and company rules. Over and above, instead of getting support from management, It was heart wrenching to know that, supervisor is being terminated by management and not that contractual woman. It was not the first time. Such incidents also happened before when supervisors were made scapegoat to keep union leaders happy. Enough is enough Sir.
And all went out of meeting room. Remaining there were three. Plant head, production manager and Harish- looking at each other faces..Collective resignation letter signed by all supervisors as if was teasing on them.
Questions for discussion :
1. How do you critically analyse the work culture of the organisation?
2. Was Harish right at deciding to terminate the Rambir and not taking any action against Sushila?
3. Was the action of Rambir of asking others to pressurize Sushila to pick the litter spread by her and put in garbage drum, proper? What else he could do?
4. Was policy of management to keep union leaders appeased proper and justified in order to keep the smooth plant running?
5. How do you see the collective resignation action of supervisors and how would you now handle the situation?