But Society Will Shame You, Not Him!

I would put in my papers eventually, I had no intention of working in this inferno of misogyny. But not until I was served with an apology.

I would put in my papers eventually, I had no intention of working in this inferno of misogyny. But not until I was served with an apology.

The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women. 

Preethi Warrier is one of the winners for the December 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. The juror for this month, Ranjani Rao commented, “When it comes to he-said, she-said, the woman always bears the consequences. But things can also change for the better if you are willing to step up.”

I was summoned to the boss’s cabin. Finally! I had been waiting this call since morning. A successful inspection, praises heaped by the visiting committee and all of this under my leadership, I did deserve a pat on my back, perhaps more.

“Come, have a seat.” My boss smiled as I seated myself.

“Actually…” She fidgeted, I could see she was nervous as she fiddled with her pen.

“Oh, come on, give me a break Ma’am.” I spoke out rather loud, “Both of us were assigned coordinators, but you know as well as I do, I’ve put in a lot more effort than him. He often cited personal problems and health issues, I covered up for him all the time. I have waited long after office hours, worked during weekends, if anybody, it’s me who deserves the increments and you can’t deny this now, not this time.”

“Of course, we’re all aware.” She was perhaps caught off guard, “It’s something else, there’ve been a few complaints you know.”

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“Against me!” It was my turn to be caught off guard, “Well, I could have been a little harsh with my subordinates at times, but…”

“No, it’s not that. I’ve been told that, err…him and you, have been getting a little too close. The other staff have been observing the two of you and many feel your interaction is pretty unprofessional and they get uncomfortable around both of you…” She averted my eyes.

“Maam?” I was lost for words.

“See, you are a married woman, you have a family. It’s not very good for your reputation, right. You worked day and night for this inspection meet. I would suggest, you relax a bit now, take it easy. I’ll shift you to some team with lesser load, so you don’t have to work long hours. But in the meantime, you please maintain some distance, why give them fodder to gossip. There’s no harm in being a bit careful.”  She stared at her table listlessly.

“What did he have to say about this?” I could feel my eyes well up, but I refused to shed a single tear.

My boss looked genuinely surprised, “I haven’t talked to him. Honestly, the complaints were all about you. Moreover, he’s a bachelor, what does he have to lose?”

I rose, “Ma’am neither am I shifting to another team, nor am I accepting any of this rubbish being spread about me. I hope you realize it’s some filthy and jealous minds working overtime. There are surely many who can’t handle my success.”

I returned to my cabin, perturbed. It must have been apparent on my face, few of my colleagues showed concern.  I couldn’t focus or think straight, so I applied for the day off.

I maintained my composure till I was home, but then I broke down in my husband’s arms.

“Can’t believe we’re still living in the dark ages, supposedly educated people and such a regressive mentality. I’m telling you, leave this place, resign. You don’t have to work in an organization where your self-respect is at stake.” My husband consoled.

“But my conscience is clear, this task was my responsibility and I performed my best, with all my heart. The visiting team appreciated my work, why should I leave when I’ve done no wrong?” I retorted.

“That’s true as well. Remember, there’s no compulsion. It’s up to you, you’re free to take your decision.” I couldn’t thank him enough for his support.

I stood by my decision to continue, I wouldn’t bow down to forces trying to bring me down. Things looked alright for some time, and I decided to put the incident behind me. But deep inside, a gnawing  unrest lurked and though I harbored no guilt, I deliberately avoided him, to stop tongues from wagging.

Reality hit, the malicious forces struck soon. Nothing comes easy in life anyway, struggles are inevitable. On the surface, all may seem calm, but things move forward exactly as they should, in tandem with an unseen natural rhythm.

My struggle began, with my parents and siblings.

“We know beta, you’re right and they’re wrong. But the society will shame you, not him. Taali ek haath se nahi bajti (It always takes two to make a noise). Leave your job, take care of your household, stay at home till the kids are older.”

Next in line was the management, I got transferred to a different team altogether, with no trace of any more communication with my previous team members. I drafted an appeal to the higher authorities, mentioning the other day’s conversation as well.

My husband followed suit, “They’re considering your past accomplishments, giving you a raise, why do you wish to stretch that subject further? The letter would be unnecessary, forget it.”

Phew, I sighed. Why couldn’t my husband see the obvious, they were stalling my growth. Ironically, the man with whom I was supposedly having a clandestine affair, remained a member of the same team, happy in his space. He was never transferred. But I let the mail be.

My so-called friendships fell next. Post the incident, there was a certain hidden barrier between me and my ex-colleagues. There were smiles and greetings, but the warmth was lost. Good riddance, I thought too, it had to be some of them who had bad mouthed me.

It wasn’t all hunky dory in my current team as well. Their behaviour was always cold and I wasn’t very keen to attach myself with any of them personally. The work environment gradually turned taciturn and I couldn’t tell if it was a mere coincidence, but more often than ever, I would hear casual references to workplace flings and adultery. Tales of how smart, career-oriented women had other means to impress their bosses and turn tables in their favour.

A domestic issue demanded my attention, I applied for a week off. But my current head seemed reluctant.

“Sanctioning a one full week at this point of time is difficult. They said you were sincere, that you in fact enjoyed staying late, with men.” He chuckled.

“I told you I could log in from home, as and when required. And you sir, have no right to question my abilities. You can save the sarcasm for people who might enjoy your evil sense of humour, I don’t have to put up with this.” I barked with rage.

He turned red, he was boiling, “Oh really? Go ahead, complain. There might be some men you could influence with your looks, dressing and mannerisms, but count me out. As if I don’t know how you got transferred. Wait and watch, I’ll …” He fumbled, as I walked out, banging the door at him.

The episode turned to be a blessing in disguise, as he had unknowingly let out his perversion, commenting on my attire and appearance. He had violated my dignity and now thanks to him and my ex-boss, I had a stronger case. I lodged a formal complaint with the Womens’ Grievance Cell in my organization, describing the character assassination and the unacceptable behaviour meted out to me. And I would put in my papers eventually, I had no intention of working in this inferno of misogyny. But not until I was served with an apology. Come what may, I was prepared to go any length to make these prejudiced people pay.

I had read somewhere, if you give up on something toxic, it’s not your failure, but an indication to move on. I had finally taken my decision. With my qualification and level of dedication, I knew it was their loss, not mine.

I was flooded with numerous, in fact, better opportunities, in a few days of posting my resume on a job portal. I had always been a career woman and I could efficiently manage my job and family. I was confident I could crack any interview with ease and I would land a good post somewhere.

But many a night, I silently wondered, how women like me are forever judged, for paying attention to our looks, talking to other men, going to work, deferring marriage, falling in love, demanding our pride and independence.

Well, I couldn’t probably fight all the sexism in the world, but in spite of the discouragement from my family and friends, I went ahead with my case. If not anything, I had to set an example for my daughters and women who would look up to me someday.

Image source: a still from the film Thappad

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