Mumbai, Feb. 19: I am a woman and want all my rights
I am a woman who knows how to fight
This is how a 12-year-old started her feisty poem for a school assignment on Woman’s Day. Her mother, at 39 and after 15 years of work at Nalco, isn’t flinching from her fight against the company’s chairman and managing director C. Venkataramana, whom she has accused of molestation.
Venkataramana has denied the allegation.
“Nobody wants me to back out now. Not my eight-year-old son, not my daughter and not my husband,” says the woman who wants corporate ethics to change “so that no girl or woman is at risk any more”.
Tired after work and surrounded by her supportive family, she reveals that Venkataramana has attempted to strike a compromise and has sent messages through his “political and company sources”.
“I have been promised monetary benefits and a promotion, but the problem is, what do I tell my daughter, who looks up to me, if I back out now'’’ she asks. “I have made it clear that I will seek justice in court because getting a reward after all this humiliation is not the point. Setting an example is.”
The Nalco chief has sought anticipatory bail from a Delhi court. In her complaint to Sahar police on February 13, the alleged victim has said that on February 8 her immediate boss, Virendra Singh, had asked her to accompany him to a five-star hotel in Mumbai where the CMD was staying.
Venkataramana offered her a glass of wine before he made a pass at her, saying: “I want to relax with you. I hope you understand.’’ She escaped after pushing him to the floor.
The CMD has dismissed the allegation as a tactic to blackmail him and a conspiracy to sully his reputation. Supporting him, the Nalco Officers’ Association has released a statement saying the charges are “fabricated”.
In a faxed statement, the association has said the company is at a critical stage pending final approval for expansion and that the molestation charge was aimed at tarnishing its image.
B.C. Ray, the president of the association, has in his boss’ defence said that Venkataramana is a “financial wizard” with a clean reputation as no such charges had been made against him during nearly 20 years of service. He has also demanded a CBI inquiry alleging that there is someone, perhaps a powerful multinational organisation, behind this.
At Nalco’s Worli office, the men dodge the issue and women say they don’t want to get into it. But a male employee, who refuses to be identified, says: “It is bad what has happened. We should all hope that the truth comes out in court. But I think we needed a small shake-up.”
The woman at the centre of it is aghast that some officers have said she cooked up the story for a promotion. “I don’t know the politics behind it, I just know what happened to me,” she says, shaking with anger.
“There was a time in that hotel room when I felt both Singh and the CMD would rape me. I know what it means to take on the entire officer cadre because I am already feeling the heat. Very few people talk to me in office because the rest still have to worry about their promotions, transfers and job security. I understand all this. But it is too late to change the direction of things. I have no regrets.”
She says she doesn’t even have anything against Singh, who is out on bail after being named as a co-accused in the case. He is an officer who was just trying to ingratiate himself with his boss, the alleged victim says and remembers him apologising profusely after the incident.
“The most amazing thing is that some officers have told me that the CMD could have easily got other women if he wanted. It is as if they want me to say thank you. But they have all the more pushed me to expose the filth at the top,’’ she says, maintaining that she is happy to have her family by her.
“Yes, Ma is not alone and I am very proud of what she has done,” the 12-year-old daughter chips in defiantly. “She’s done very well,’’ she adds as she rattles off the rest of her Woman’s Day poem.