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  • Navya Asopa

“Ek didi ka issue nahi hai, ye sabhi didiyo ke saath ho raha hai” : Housekeeping Staff Fired after Reporting Sexual Harassment by Supervisors

“He groped my chest and started forcibly kissing me.…” recounted Priya*, a former housekeeping employee at Ashoka University, contracted through Quess Corp., one of the University’s contractual hiring partners. Soon after the incident, Priya was fired.

Priya, with two other female housekeeping Quess employees, said they were unexpectedly terminated from their jobs in the housekeeping department in July and October last year.  Two of them alleged their supervisors sexually harassed them. Official reasons for their dismissal remain unclear. 

Despite multiple requests for reinstatement over five months, the Quess management has not yet provided a resolution, say the affected women — leaving them without a reliable source of income and employment.

October 6, 2023– a regular Friday for most. Jaya*, a housekeeping staff at Ashoka, said she received a letter that day from Quess. “Termination Letter,” it read.

She was not the only one to receive such a letter. Fellow housekeeping staff Sonal* was also removed on the same day. This came in after she questioned Chetna, a housekeeping supervisor,  about the decision to terminate her friend, Jaya.

“Mere saboot dikha do. Agar mai galat hu, toh mai khud resign dene ke liye tayyar hu” [Show me proof of my mistake. If I am proven to be wrong, I will resign myself], says Sonal. Five months have passed. She has not yet heard back from Quess. 

Sonal’s husband, a government sanitation worker, now has to fend for their two kids alone.

Before her termination, Jaya reported harassment by Dinesh, another housekeeping supervisor. She recalled that in October 2022, Dinesh followed her as she walked inside a RH-4 washroom. He started filming her and asked what she was doing inside. As Jaya was changing, he demanded proof of her soiled clothes.

“Inka ek warning letter bhi nahi likha gaya. Inko nahi nikaala, ye galat nahi hai?” [Not even a warning letter was issued to him. He wasn’t removed, is this not wrong?] Jaya asks.

Jaya was admitted to Sonipat’s Nidaan Hospital after receiving news of her termination. The letter caused a surge of sharp panic. After working at Ashoka for three years, she did not know why her tenure was cut short so suddenly.

The letter said the company had received a complaint against her on October 2. “During the inspection, you were not found at your assigned spot and when the supervisor asked the reason, you started arguing and hitting them,” it claimed. 

Jaya, however, recollected the incident differently.

“I was having lunch at the time when one of my supervisors, Chetna, started recording me,” she tells The Edict. “I told her to stop as it made me uncomfortable, but she didn’t listen. That is when we argued.”

The letter mentioned the recording of the incident is living proof of her ‘indecent behaviour.’ Jaya has reportedly requested the recording of the incident from Quess on multiple occasions, to no avail.

These incidents have not occurred in isolation.

On July 29,  Priya, a resident of Sonipat, employed at the housekeeping department, filed an FIR at the Rai police station to report sexual harassment by Manish Khatri, a housekeeping manager.

“Unhone meri chest dabaayi aur mujhe kiss karne laga zabardasti. Mere paas recording hai, pakke proof bhi hai... Phir bhi inhone police ko paise vaise dekar meri report jhoothi batadi,” Priya tells The Edict. [He groped my chest and started forcibly kissing me. I have the recording and proof... But they bribed the police to deem my report false.] The Edict has been unable to verify the existence of such a recording.

Within three months of lodging the FIR under section 354 of IPC, Priya was terminated by Quess. The letter stated that she was found sleeping at her site of work on May 30 and was later issued a warning letter. It also called her police complaint against Khatri ‘false and baseless.’

According to Priya, two managers at Quess confirmed that the incident took place. However, no action was taken against the perpetrator by the company.

“Maine apni ijjat ke maare awaaz uthaayi, toh inhone mera hi kaam baandh diya”  [I raised my voice for my self-respect, and they took my job away], she says.

Sources have alleged  at least three more women have faced harassment by Quess’ housekeeping authorities. 

“Ek didi ka issue nahi hai, ye sabhi didiyo ke saath ho raha hai,” [This is not an issue faced by any one female staff, it is happening with each of them], Jaya says.

Since their termination notice, Priya, Jaya and Sonal have reportedly been appealing to Quess and the university for reinstatement. The women reportedly approached Vice President of Operations Bhaskar Mishra for immediate help, who informed them that this was Quess’ matter to look into

“It is an internal matter of the employee and the company [Quess]. Let them handle it. If there is not a fair deal, then I’ll step in,” Mishra said.

On October 16, the three women attended a meeting with the Quess management at the company’s office in Delhi. “Hume koi kiraaya nahi diya tha. Hum bhooke pyaase dhakke khaake laute Dilli se” (They did not give us any money (for travel). We returned from Delhi hungry and worn out), alleges Jaya.

Ram Lakhan, Assistant Manager, HR Complaints discussed possibly relocating the women with the management to other sites in Gurgaon or Noida.

It has been over five months since. The terminated workers say no further communication has been relayed to them thereafter. The Edict reached out to the official address of Quess Corp. but did not hear back.

According to Priya, students were not eager to help and failed to mobilise. “Agar 20 bacche bhi saath dete na, toh humaari naukri bach jaati.” [Even if 20 students would’ve come in support, we wouldn’t have lost our jobs.]

*The names of the survivors in this story have been changed to protect them from potential legal issues. The Edict has verified survivors’ identities and their documentation.

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