Sayema Sahar’s Molestation Saga is Missed in the Glamour World
The much hyped Tarun Tejpal’s attempted sexual harassment case of his young female staffer– for which he’s now in jail– has since blown the lid off several such cases of sexual molestation in the big media houses.
As it seems inevitable now that the affidavit by a law intern, who has accused former Supreme Court judge A K Ganguly of sexual harassment, would force ‘his honour’ to resign as chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC) and face the trial. In her affidavit to a three-judge panel set up by the Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam to go into her allegation that Justice Ganguly had sexually harassed her in a hotel room on December 24 last year, the intern has described in detail his alleged ‘extra judicial’ behaviour when she had gone to assist him in his work. The plaintiff claims to be his grand-daughter’s age and used to keep him at high esteem.
Yet some other high profile sexual misconduct and rape cases of so-called god-man Asaram Bapu and his crime addicted son Narayan Sai proving to be the TRP bonanza for most of the 20 plus ‘mainstream’ national news channels. It’s true that some of these sex-cases against extremely powerful individuals might go unnoticed or even unheard without in-time media intervention, thanks to media corporations, their ‘love and respect of women’ that put Tejpal, Asaram, Narayan and Ganguly at deep water today.
But the 24×7 channels which keep crying for morality, truth and women’s rights find hard to see their own faces in the mirror when someone shows them their distorted faces. There are several cases of on and off duty female journalists and off screen women being sexually harassed, abused and even physically attacked by their bosses or co-workers but these cases rarely come into the limelight.
This is the first anniversary of the Nirbhaya case which roiled the media and the common people but the lid is still on those women who undergo harassment and sexual torture in the media houses, and such cases go unreported. Even the Women’s Rights Commission chose to ignore them. For, there will be no camera focus for the takers of such cases.
One such episode is that of Sayema Sahar, former head of the creative cell of Star News/ABP News. Here is the full text of the painful ordeal that Sayema underwent during her tenure there, which she emailed to Eastern Crescent:
As Ravinaar of Media Crooks has put up, “There’s Sayema Sahar, formerly of Star News (now Ananda Bazar Patrika – ABP News). She claims to be sexually harassed by the bosses at Star News (Avinash Pandey, present COO and Gautam Sharma, present Vice-President at ABP News). On protesting she was harassed and finally thrown out of the company it seems. Her complaints went unheard and even the “we-cry-for-all-women” NCW did not respond to her complaints. The NCW did nothing. Sahar is a Muslim woman but she hasn’t claimed being harassed because of that. Maybe she made a mistake. Maybe if she claimed she was harassed because she was a “woman and a Muslim” she would have got the attention of the NCW, the Congress, Minorities Commission, the AIMPLB, Digvijaya Singh, the Babri Committee, Teesta Setalvad, Barkha Dutt, Mulayam Singh, Nitish Kumar, Vrinda Grover and Javed “SAAB”. NOTHING! She was just thrown out and no one still wants to talk about it. I believe both Avinash Pandey and Gautam Sharma should be questioned by the NCW and the police. Sayema was pregnant when she was thrown out of the company after being harassed…”
[tooltip gravity=”nw”]“I was forced to have alcohol, I was forced to come to parties and I was being forced into a lot of practices which were against my culture and religious practices.” -Sayema Sahar (Former Head of Creative Cell, Star/ABP News)[/tooltip]I tried to garner support and voice from wherever I could – even went to the minority commission thinking everything is fair in war— war for my honor, my modesty, but it did not interest the authorities may be because it was away from the media glare, maybe because nobody could have earned brownie points by helping me.
Against the backdrop of the recent ‘incident’ of a young journalist being sexually attacked bringing to light misdemeanors’ of her mentor, my unfortunate story has resurfaced at least on social media.
My victimsation saga began soon after I joined Star News in the year 2006. I was discriminated from the rest because I refused to attend private parties of my bosses, Avinash Pandey and Gautam Sharma, and because I refused to drink, dance and above all sit on the laps of my bosses. I have pictures to prove my point and the culture, to which if you give in, you are a rockstar otherwise you would be thrown out like me.
I know of females who have survived the culture of Star News/ ABP news by sitting in locked cabins of Avinash Pandey and going outstation with Gautam Sharma.
There is enough and ample evidence which would speak aloud for my harassment but four and a half years is a very long time for evidence to be deleted or bought over. All those people who I had mentioned as my witnesses, in my communications were handsomely rewarded to speak and stand against me.
Though I had spent over 5 years in an MNC before I joined Star News but this culture and practice for survival, was new to me. It was totally shocking and confusing for me. I was new in my job and hence worried that if I resign; I would be questioned for changing the job so soon and would probably be seen as a weak professional. I had changed industry from FMCG to media, and I had come here to stay.
I was forced to have alcohol, I was forced to come to parties and I was being forced into a lot of practices which was against my culture and religious practices.
I felt violated but was all this really bad enough for me to complain? Who could I speak to? I didn’t want to lose before I had even begun.
But I decided to put my foot down and made a verbal compliant to the seniors, some relief for a couple of months but it bounced back and this time with a vengeance.
The three and a half years that I was at Star News, it was just a roller coaster ride to not give in to Pandey and Gautam (the two accused in my case).
Speaking up officially and demanding that the organization take formal action against the harasser changed me overnight from just another employee at work to someone under a constant, unwelcome spotlight.
HISTORY AND SEQUENCE OF MY CASE WITH STAR NEWS
29th Oct. 2006
I joined Star News as Deputy Manager: Ad Sales, reporting to Avinash Pandey – Regional Head for North & East
1st May 2007
I along with the entire sales team went to Malaysia for a conference
3rd May 2007
We had an evening party after the day-long meeting, during the party Avinash Pandey tried forcing an alcoholic drink on me, to the extent that I had to fake that I am having a drink.
The same evening Avinash asked us to come to Gautam’s room with him. I was not alone, there were two other females, Kavita Kapoor and Anjana Singh (both have left the organization now).
There were a couple of other people in the room too. Avinash sat on the bed next to me. He was under the impression that I am drunk hence held my hand and started tickling my palm, I tried to shift but he put his foot on my skirt but somehow I got up from there and managed to step out of the room.
I met Gautam in the corridor of the hotel and he asked me to come to his room, said “We will have fun” to which I said I am not feeling too well and went to my room.
4th May 2007
The following day in Penang we went to a pub along with the entire team. Avinash once again started forcing me to have alcohol with him, he held my hands and started forcing the drink when at that moment he was called by his boss and the situation was avoided.
Joydeb transferred me from his department to marketing headed by Vivek Malhotra (has left the organization). Avinash could not take this and after a couple of months he got me transferred to his department once again. He became very nice with me – which lasted for 2 months after the transfer.
7th May. 2008
We were in Istanbul (Turkey) for our conference, and we had gone for a cruise in the evening where once again Avinash bullied me to have a drink with him.
26th Aug. 2008
We had gone to Jaipur for a sales conference.
27th Aug. 2008
In the evening of 27th August Avinash once again threatened me to have a drink else I would lose my job and to fool him I took a glass of orange juice, then he came to me, took my glass to smell it and to see if it had alcohol or not…
29th March 2009
Avinash called me to his room and said from tomorrow you would report to Gautam (RM- North). I asked him the reason, for the reason that he may help me in his work. I said okay.
29th March – 23rd April 2009
Gautam’s behavior with me was not only extremely bad but rather harsh and rude. I took it in my stride as one can’t choose his or her boss. He used to call me to the guest house for no reason because he never used to come to office except on Mondays. I was 7 months pregnant then. I raised an objection to it saying that 90% of my work requires me to be in office so why do I go to the guest house and both Avinash and Gautam said I will have to else it will be called indiscipline on my part.
1st April 2009
Met Satyakki (HR Head) in person and complained about Avinash’s behavior with me. He assured me of every help.
2nd April 2009
Came back and thanked Satyakki on mail for hearing me out.
22nd April 2009
At 2.30 pm Gautam called me to his room. Normally in the sales department we do not have too many people in office around that time, though there were few people sitting in office who are in support functions. He called me inside a cabin and started yelling and howling at me— this continued for about an hour— me and Gautam Sharma in a closed room.
23rd April 2009
At 08: 16 am I wrote a mail to Satyakki Bhattacharya- the HR head – copy of the mail enclosed.
The same day
At 11:00 am Satyakki wrote a mail asking me to meet him.
24th April 2009
Met Satyakki in his office, the meeting lasted for over an hour, he was again very nice to me. Assured me of every help.
15th May 2009
At 4.15 pm Gautam however did not stop with his harassment even after Satyakki’s assurance that appropriate action would be taken to check Gautam – helpless and hapless I wrote to Satyakki that if appropriate action is not taken against Gautam, I will have to seek help from outside. I marked a copy to one of my friend.
The same day
At 5.15 pm Satyakki responded and asked me to meet him.
18th May 2009
I wrote a mail to Satyakki that I will meet him the following day. Sent a mail – subject (I still look up to you) Satyaki wrote back asking me to see him at 11 in office. Sent a mail saying will meet on the 19th.
19th May 2009
I met Satyakki in his room along with two other females – Charu and Neetu. My conversation was also recorded without my consent. Which Satyakki denied later and thereafter admitted at NCW on 30th April 2010.
About the meeting, I wrote to Satyakki to help him recall the meeting since he denied any such meeting happened.
I wrote, “When I reached your room around 11 in the morning, you introduced me to two females in your room, Neetu Wali from our own department and Charu from marketing. (He introduced Charu as a psychologist to me.) She was in printed salwar qameez and Neetu Wali in pink and green bandini churidar kurta (descriptions might help you to remember when we met).
You asked me to repeat whatever I told you in my previous meeting. When I requested you that I don’t want to, you insisted. I was getting very emotional you offered me your box of tissue again and a glass of water. While I was talking I saw a small little device in Neetu’s hand, when I asked her what is that, you intervened and said, we are recording your conversation so that the same can be played in front of Gautam.
I will not be surprised if both Neetu and Charu deny that they have ever met me. My fault, I should have had my witness too as you had yours during our meeting, but I trusted you Satyakki.
Later in that meeting, you made a cup of tea for me, from the tea bags on your table.
You also asked Neetu send across a book on pregnancy and child care to me at my residence, as a gift from your side.
You were so nice Satyakki. Further ahead, your sweet gesture of gifting me that key ring which had a Turkish blue eye was really very well appreciated by me.
Lots of people who saw me in your room for so long can also help you in recalling this meeting which you do not remember now.”
Guatam says that I was made to report to him only for a day: FALSE
Document supporting: Mail to Gautam on 26th March 2009 for regularizing my attendance (the reporting boss does that)
Mail to Gautam on 26th May 2009 for the same reason
Hence the claim that I was made to report to him for just one day stands dismissed.
“Please note that in your first email dated April 23, 2009 you sought suggestion from me on the issues raised by you and due to your inability to meet me personally in my office, I thought you no more need my suggestion/ indulgence in the issue.”
I irritate you so much with my tears, my emails and my text messages that at last you had to write that you will not entertain my mails/ messages.
[I] am deeply concerned with the alleged threatening calls, attacks and the FIR but the same was never brought to my notice before and since the issue is not related to the office, I cannot comment on the same.
Who on earth would want me to resign from office but a few people I work with???
4th Jan. 2010
Joined Office post maternity leave… no work assigned.
The same day
My seat was changed – was made to sit with my juniors (ref. Jashoda’ s mail of 4th Jan.)
5th Jan. 2010
Went to Avinash to ask for work- no work given.
8th Jan. 2010
Went to Avinash to ask for work- no work given.
15th Jan 2010
Went to Avinash to ask for work- no work given.
18th Jan. 2010
Avinash asked me to be in the market and to keep an eye on the international brands coming in India- (job we give to a trainee normally).
22nd Jan. 2010
Wrote to Satyakki informing him that I have been not assigned any meaningful work. No communication after this.
12th March 2010
Satyakki writes to me on a different issue.
15th March 2010
[I] Responded to him-
You are responding to my concern after one and a half month.
Mentioned about the threat calls/attack on my car/ mentioned FIR.
17th March 2010
[I] wrote to him saying that somebody had come to my house asking for me at 11 in the night.
The same day
Satyakki writes to me, asked me to come and meet him.
19th March 2010
Satyakki writes to me that I have discussed this issue with him only on email/ telephone / sms. And said that I have never met him in person.
Said he cannot comment on the threat calls since it’s not related to the office
Alleged that I have marked my mail of 12/3/2010 to an outsider- which is wrong.
24th March 2010
(Satyakki) First time talked about allegations made by Sayema, dismissing the allegations, said that I reported to Gautam only for one day.
The same day
[I] Responded to this mail and also mentioned that my mails are getting deleted.
25th March 2010
[I] Wrote to Subhash Dhayani for mails being deleted.
30th April 2010
Satyakki writes to meet at 4 pm. I replied will meet with my witness. He responded,
will not meet with my witness.
The same day
He again writes why meeting could not happen.
The same day
(30th April 2010)
I write a mail to Satyakki thanking him for the insult.
Later wrote a mail with the entire incident revisited and marked to Satyakki, Avinash, Shazi Zaman and Ashok Venkatramani.
Vulnerable, hapless, helpless and traumatized I went to the HR, and then I went to the Editor-in-Chief of Star News/ABP News, pleading to give me a patient hearing only to be further harassed by the system.
My husband wrote to Avik Sarkar, the owner of the channel but he chose to remain quiet.
When I was denied help of any sort within the organization, I went to the National Commission for Women (NCW). However, least did I know at that time that the NCW is a compromised commission which has no teeth of its own.
I was made to believe that my integrity and my modesty were in safe hands but I was mistaken. The NCW chose to go the way of my employer.
My fight with this big media house is still on, with no help from anywhere. It is just my belief in the age-old adage that “truth always triumphs” that keeps me going.
Witnesses were created, documentary evidences were deleted, and the men who harassed me were promoted at Star News/ABP News.
Here, in Avinash Pandey’s own words: “Nobody can touch me in the media as I am like a son to Uday Shankar [boss of Star News].”
The silence of all these people in power came as a shock and disgust. Friends deserted me and I realised that my world is getting smaller but I still could muster my courage and determination to keep going against all odds.
Watching the lessons on morality by these news channels frustrates me no end. I feel a scream of anguish is permanently stuck in my throat. I want to yell, I want to cry out loud so that I can be heard.
While it gives me some satisfaction to see the world unite for the victim in the Tarun Tejpal case, it also continues to haunt me that my harassers till date have remained untouched.
I will sign off with a hope that by holding on to the proverb, “the wheels of justice grinds slow but it grinds for sure,” I will one day get justice. (Courtesy: easterncrescent)