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Several female interns at a law firm recently came out on LinkedIn alleging sexually abusive behaviour by one of the firm’s senior partners, through inappropriate messages.
I opened LinkedIn a couple of days ago with the intent of scrolling through my feeds, but instead of the regular motivational quotes or job openings, I saw something that is rarely acknowledged.
There were several posts that alleged harassment of the female interns doing a virtual internship at Indo Juris Legal, by its senior partner Mukul Goyal. You can read the account here.
Advocate Mukul Goyal who is the Founding Partner of the law firm has been accused of sending inappropriate text messages to the female interns. The advocate has subsequently deleted his profile from LinkedIn and Instagram upon the allegations becoming public. Path Legal, an online directory of lawyers states that he is a lawyer with 10 years of experience, and practises in the Supreme Court and Punjab & Haryana High Court among several other courts and Tribunals.
The allegations coming to light against a senior legal professional have left the legal fraternity shaken, putting a spotlight on the unsafe work environment women are often subject to.
The interns who have spoken up are first- and second-year law students who were part of a virtual legal internship offered by Indo Juris Legal, where Mukul Goyal had created a WhatsApp group for all the interns. The first question they were asked was “whether they were a boy or girl”, something the male interns too have coroborrated.
The women interns who complained have alleged that good morning messages were being sent to their personal WhatsApp handles with inappropriate emojis, as the screenshots here show. The women also said that they had received comments from Goyal on the pictures they had posted on their WhatsApp status, and some of them were even asked for photographs. They had protested to Adv Mukul Goyal about the discomfort they had felt at this use of inappropriate emojis and the tone of his messages, but that he continued to address them as “dear” and texting in the same unprofessional and inappropriate terms.
When the women called him out for this inappropriate behaviour, the interns allege that several of them were removed from the WhatsApp group, resulting in their internship being jeopardised.
Goyal however does not seem to repent or even apologise for his deplorable behaviour. The apology issued by him is also in a condescending tone as can be seen here.
He announces his resignation in the wake of the allegation, but in the very next line states how his firm was started with noble thoughts and provided knowledge and experience to law students. He goes on to say how he never charged any fee from the students. One cannot miss the self-pity this man wallows in.
He further claims that his messages to the interns were not professional as they have been hurt, but it was only a greeting he sent. Clearly, he seems to think that too much noise is being made over what he still perceives were greetings, and his apology in the closing line of the message appears insincere. Strangely a question that has been raised by several male interns is why these ‘greetings’ were sent only to their female colleagues; if it was only a “good morning” greeting as claimed by Goyal, why the gender discrimination in dispensing the greeting?
This incident has created a furore in the legal fraternity. This is not the first incident of workplace harassment women are being subject to, but in recent times when several prominent names from various fields were called out for sexual harassment at the workplace by female colleagues and subordinates, there was hope that workplaces would become safer for women. But with this incident, when we see an advocate who is well aware of the laws resort to such harrowing behaviour, the hopes seem in vain.
The women at the receiving end of the harassment in the present case are young and have just started on their career path. Did this give confidence to the advocate to continue subjecting his female interns to harassment in the form of these ludicrous messages? Was he confident that these women would not raise their voices for the fear of having their careers jeopardised? Do such men gain confidence from the fact that it’s the women who are questioned by society, which acts as a guard for them?
The incident also brings to light another very important fact. As a woman, I have often been told that when a situation gets uncomfortable I must immediately voice my discomfort. But in this case, despite the female interns voicing their discomfort with the tone of his messages, he continued addressing them in the same tone with the needless endearments. It makes me extremely angry but also curious to know, why does the woman’s opinion hold no value?
If this is what happens in a virtual workplace, one shudders to think what could have happened if it was an in-office internship.
This incident has had several senior legal professionals come forward and caution law students especially women to do their due diligence about the law firm offering them internship before accepting the offer. They have also advised women to raise their voice immediately considering several previous incidents concerning the same advocate have come to light. But this is just victim blaming and optics – strangely nobody seems to ask men to mind their language, to treat their colleagues professionally irrespective of their gender or seniority, and to immediately apologise and correct themselves at the first instance of their being called out.
I wonder when that will ever happen.
Image source: a still from this short film on sexual harassment at the workplace
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