#MeToo Movement Reaches the Police in Gujarat

In Surat, women home guards say they have been under pressure to perform sexual favours and domestic labour for superiors.

Surat: In a new development in India’s #MeToo movement, 25 woman home guards have sent a written complaint to the city’s police commissioner, alleging they have been subject to mental, physical, emotional and financial harassment by a station officer (SO) and a woman officer in the Home Guards Department.

The written complaint alleges that women employees of the department have been harassed by their seniors for the past five years. At the DCP’s office, one complainant, Dhodu Shinde, told The Wire, “Some of the home guards have been pressurised to give sexual favours to superiors who show their might. Many of us have also been pressurised to work as domestic [workers] at SO Somnath Gaharwal’s house. I am one of them.”

Mangla Narain Pandey, another home guard, said, “Our senior Bhavnaben openly abuses subordinates and says that they should discuss all their problems with SO Somnath Gaharwal – and if they manage to keep the SO happy, their job will be secured.”

Kantharia, their reporting in-charge, demanded money from home guards and, if they failed to pay, told them they would not be required on the job.

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“I was threatened to work as a domestic [worker], or else I would lose my job,” one complainant, Anjana Naik, told The Wire. “I was asked by Bhavna to spend my free time with SO Somnath.”

“Sometimes, when SO Somnath got any complaint regarding the female home guards, they were called at the parade ground,” Naik continued. “During the turn-out check up, he tried to touch their body parts on the pretext of touching our belts, caps and uniform. This has happened with several of us.”

“Many of us feel threatened as Somnath has directly told us to keep him ‘happy’, or else we will not be given duties and our point of work will be far away from our residences,” Naik said. “He has made our lives miserable. This has been happening for long enough.”

When contacted by The Wire, the Chief of Home Guards in Surat, Prafull Pansuria, said he had not yet received any complaint, but if he did, he would certainly take action.

Police commissioner of Surat Satish Sharma, however, refused to even meet the women when they approached him. Instead, the aggrieved home guards met the DCP Headquarters Vidhi Chaudhary and handed their complaint to her. Chaudhary has promised an inquiry.

Raja Chowdhury is the Editorial Director of INDvestigations, an investigative news blog.

Read The Wire’s complete coverage of India’s Me Too movement here.