AIR employee Shanti Verma reached out to The Quint early on Tuesday morning, 16 April, to claim that she had been unable to sit in protest in front of the Prasar Bharati office.
"When I reached last evening, some AIR officials came to speak to me. One female official told me that she sympathises and that if I were a regular announcer, they would re-instate me immediately, but unfortunately, I am a casual announcer. They then escorted me to Tilak Nagar police station, from where I was taken to an NGO to spend the night. The police tell me that they will facilitate my meeting with AIR today, but I feel helpless".
The Quint will update this story as more details emerge and her claims can be verified.
Shanti Verma hasn’t sat behind the semi-soundproof glass of a control room in three years. She loved that job. She aced it, she says, for over 10 years. “They (my listeners) wouldn’t recognise my face if they saw it. But they would know my voice,” she says with no trace of complacency. There is only a hint of resignation and a sense of nostalgia for a now-ancient series of nights and days, spent enthralling her listeners over Prasar Bharati’s airwaves.
But Shanti has stopped craving the job that she hasn’t done in three years. She will return to her old office building next week – not to enter it, but to perch herself firmly in front of it, fasting unto death until the promises made by the authorities to her are fulfilled, and justice is done.
Shanti Verma claims that she was sexually harassed and molested by her seniors at All India Radio (AIR)’s station in Obra city (about 137 kilometres from Varanasi) in Uttar Pradesh, on two separate occasions – in 2010 and 2016.
Why the fast in 2019?
"“I want two things to be achieved immediately: The investigation to be reopened and all the perpetrators I named in those two incidents to be investigated again and brought to book. I also want to be reinstated to my duty with sufficient compensation.”" - Shanti VermaHow It Started
“I joined as a compere in 1999,” Shanti says. “In 2000, I was made a casual announcer – a role I held for years after.” The first time she was sexually harassed, Shanti recalls, was in 2010.
According to her,
"“Kaafi dino se mera night duty chal raha tha. Mujhe yaad hai, Holika dahan wali raat thi. Main ek transmission kar rahi thi, tabhi humara jo DO tha – Srikrishna – woh aaye aur ek CD chala diya, Blue film ki CD thi. Main bilkul dang reh gayi thi. Phir usne mere thigh par apna haath rakha aur mujhse kiss maangi. (I had been on night duty for a while, and I remember that it was the night before Holi. While I was in the midst of a transmission, the DO, Srikrishna, walked in and started playing a CD – which turned out to be a ‘blue film’. When I recoiled in shock, he placed his hand on my thigh and asked for a kiss.)”"
Srikrishna’s alleged harassment of her, Shanti claims, was only the most extreme culmination to what she’d been facing for months before. She alleges that several times during her tenure, ‘blue films’ would be played over and over again by security guards in the control room.
Shanti claims that she filed her complaint with AIR’s Assistant Director Generals (ADGs), and subsequently Srikrishna was transferred – although not fired.
The Quint reached out to the current DGs (Director Generals) and ADGs (Assistant Director Generals) at AIR about whether Sriskrishna is still in their employ and to facilitate an official response from him, but at the time of writing this story, had received no response from the recipients of the email.
Shanti continued to work there, despite the fact that the night duties were starting to pile on – and feel increasingly uncomfortable. She remembers speaking to the ADG at the time and requesting him to reassign her. “After his instructions, my immediate seniors listened – for a few months anyway. Then, I was back on night (shift).”
Sexually Harassed a Second Time, Alleges Shanti Verma
The second incident allegedly occurred in May 2016. According to her:
"“Holika dahan ki raat thi. Mujhe shaam wali transmission karni thi; waqt tha 9.30 se 10 baje. Main waha baithi thi, control room ke kaach ke peeche, jab mujhe humara security guard dikha – Mahanarayan Singh. Singh ne uniform nahi pehna tha, woh civil dress mein tha: safed shirt aur trousers mein. Bas saamne khade khade mujhe taad raha tha. Maine Subhash Mishra ko complain kiya, jo usdin engineer on duty (EOD) tha. 2010 wali raat bhi wohi thhe. (It was the night before Holi. I’d been assigned the evening transmission between 9.30 and 10 pm– and as I sat there, behind the glass of the control room, the lone security guard on duty that night – Mahanarayan Singh – came and stood in front. Singh wasn’t in uniform. He was in civil clothes – a white shirt and trousers – and he stood behind the glass, leering at me. I complained to Subhash Mishra, the engineer on duty (EOD) with me. Incidentally, Mishra had been present that night too, in 2010.)“"
The DO, Shanti claims, was on leave that night – as was the station head, GP Nirala. When she shouted to Mishra to pull up the guard for his antics, he allegedly ordered her to come outside so they could hear her better. Things escalated quickly.
According to Shanti,
"“Mishra ne meri baahen pakadli aur meri suit ki asteen fat gayi. Maine orange salwar kameez pehna tha. Guardne bhi mujhpe haath uthaya (Mishra grabbed me by the hand and the sleeve of my orange kameez tore. The guard struck me as well)." -
When Shanti managed to extricate herself from the situation, she claims that she’d already realised she’d had enough. This time, after filing an official complaint with Prasar Bharati, she filed an FIR. Prasar Bharti’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) conducted an investigation into the case.
The Quint has accessed a copy of the complaint she wrote to Prasar Bharati:
She also mentioned, in her complaint to the ICC, the station head at the time, GP Nirala – who, she claimed, had made an obscene comment about her. “He said my breasts had really started to grow,” she alleges.
"“ICC ne mahino tak chhaan bil kiya aur phir ek report likhi jo padhke main shock ho gayi thhi. Usme bataya ki kuch physical nahi hua tha. Bakiyon chhor diya, sirf guard ka naam mention kiya. (The ICC investigated for months and filed a report which really shocked me. It said that nothing physical had happened. They only retained Mahanarayan Singh’s name in the context of any wrongdoing – and said that no one else had been involved.)”"
The Quint reached out to the current DGs (Director Generals) and ADGs (Assistant Director Generals) at AIR about whether Subhash Mishra is still employed with AIR and to facilitate an official response from him, but at the time of publishing this story, had received no response.
An ICC, an FIR and Silence
This report, Shanti claims, was filed in response to her FIR. “But what about the others? Why did they get away?” she demands. She admits that she had been too frightened to do anything at the time. “I didn’t think I could file an appeal,” she says.
The Quint has accessed a copy of the FIR below:
The Quint has also accessed a copy of the ICC’s two-page observation here:
It not only remarks that “Shanti ne mahaul kharab kiya... (Shanti has muddied the environment at the workplace)”, but also that:
"“...Samiti ne unse (GP Nirala) bahut der tak pooch-taach ki parantu us dauraan unki bhasha shauli sayamit rahi. Adhikansh mahila karmachariyo dwara unko bartaav ko sahyogatmak bataya gaya avung Shri Nirala dwara unke prati kisi prakar ki abhadra bhasha ke prayog se inkaar kiya gaya. (The committee questioned him for a long time and his language remained calm and controlled throughout. Majority of the women also said that his behaviour is collaborative and that Shri Nirala had never used vulgar language towards them.)”"
The Quint reached out to GP Nirala for a comment. Nirala, who said that he had retired from his post as station head of AIR Obra in December, claimed that he had made no such comment on Shanti Verma’s body.
"“Mujhse bahut pocch taach ki aur aur main nirdosh paaya gaya. Jis raat ki woh baat karti hai, us raat toh main chhutti pe thha, toh mujhe kuch nahi pata, Pata nahi mujhe iss sab mein kyun daala. (I was thoroughly investigated and found innocent. Also, the night that she talks about, 22 March 2016, I was on leave, so I have no knowledge of what happened. I don’t know why I was accused of all this.”" - GP Nirala, ex-station head, AIR Obra
Did he know anything about blue films being shown in AIR Obra’s control rooms, as Shanti alleges, or about guards drinking and misbehaving?
“Bikul nahi. Aisa kuch nahi hua tha mere time pe. Balki, sab tareef karte thhe mere kaam ko, maine kaise handle karta thha humare bibhaag ko. Humara bibhaag achha thha. (Not at all. No such thing ever happened in my tenure. In fact, everyone praised the way I ran the department. Our station was a good one.)”
GP Nirala also told FirstPost in this report – when the latter reached out to him – that “Had I been there, I assure you it would not have happened. I tried several times so that an amicable compromise is reached.”
The downslide began post 2016. The ICC had said that, “...kendra ka mahaul kharab karne ki pravritti ko dhyan mein rakhte huye janhit wo kendra hit mein Shrimati Shanti Verma ko Aakashvani mein karyakram wo anya duty se pratibandhit karne ki sangstuti ki jaati hu. (considering her inclination to spoil the workplace environment, it is instructed that Shrimati Shanti Verma be barred from duties at Aakashvani.)”
“Pichle teen saal se meri koi duty nahi lagi hai,” she claims. Unwilling to put her family through more, she’d accepted it without question.
Post #MeToo, How Shanti Verma Found Her Voice
Until last October, when the Me Too wave erupted. It seethed and surged and, in its ebb, uncovered a flurry of old complaints – 17, to be precise – that had been filed against various male staff of All India Radio across cities in Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The casual workers’ union that dusted off the old case files and collated them for the National Commission for Women (NCW) now came to Shanti Verma.
The NCW and Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi ordered a probe into the matter and Shanti claims NCW’s chairperson Rekha Sharma instructed the DG and ADGs at AIR’s Obra station to ensure her duties resumed.
“Yet, nothing happened,” she claims.
The Quint reached out to Rekha Sharma several times, but she remained unavailable for comment.
In its order passed on 14 January 2019, the NCW had directed Prasar Bharati to give a hearing to all 17 complainants from across the country where such allegations have been made. Yet, according to The Indian Express, come April – as the All India Radio Casual Announcer and Comperes Union (AIRCACU) points out – not only have AIR and Prasar Bharati authorities not taken any action against the perpetrators “but also terminated services of some of the victims under the pretext of re-evaluation of their performance”.
According to NCW, and as quoted by this NDTV report:
"“The complainants stated that there are some cases in which a re-screening test was passed by the employees concerned, but they have not been given further assignments because of complaints filed by them or on their behalf.”" - NCW, quoted by NDTV
Shanti doesn’t know how the other survivors will proceed to respond, but she knows she’s waited too long.
"“Mujhe samajh mein aa gaya hai kuch hone wala nahi hai (I have begun to realise that nothing will happen). I wrote a letter to AIR and Prasar Bharati and to the NCW on 3 April, notifying them of my decision to launch a fast unto death. I told them I plan to sit on the fast on 15 April. I urged them to do better by me – otherwise I see no alternative.”"
The Quint has accessed a copy of this letter, as below:
The cumulative conversation about a cumulative series of memories from the past nine years has numbed Shanti Verma, but not broken her spirit.
"“I have a little boy – he’s in the 4th standard. I want to set an example for him. I want to set an example for my daughter. If I am choosing to leave them both and sit alone at Prasar Bharati’s steps, ready to embrace death if it comes, then surely this means something to me. Does this mean nothing to them? Main mar jaungi lekin peeche nahi hatungi (I will die, but I will not give up).”"
Her awaaz, Shanti Verma says sadly, has been her biggest “pehchaan”. “They (the authorities) have benefited my voice for years. How can they not acknowledge my voice now?”
Is she also going to be fasting for the 16 other women whose complaints have been reopened post MeToo? Shanti says simply that while she’s sitting for herself on 15 April 2019, “agar ekbar nyay hota hai, toh ho sakta hai ki bakiyon ka bhi ho (if justice is served even once, it is possible it will be served many times after that).”
(The Quint has also reached out to current ADGs at Prasar Bharati in New Delhi for their comment. This story will be updated as and when they respond.)
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