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Case Analysis: Case Go Beyond Leadership

If you are in a decision-making position in an organisation and you are wondering what you can do, please define violence for your organisation, writes Dr Achal Bhagat

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Dear Mr basu and the men of my country, Let us stop being bystanders to violence! My friends, your solution is a cop out. After weeks and months of being paralysed, you are not willing to accept the responsibility of confronting your colleague. Your friend… your colleague… your fellow human being, is accountable to you. He may not be legally accountable to the organisation. You have known him for 12 years. You have shared his success with him. You have shared goals and values with him. Now you hear that some things that you had believed about him, may not have been his true self. That makes him accountable to you. Please do not talk in asides and metaphors. “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?” “Schizophrenic?” Is that the best narrative that you can come up with? “He is violent. He must be mad.” I am sorry, that will not do. Please do not sanction his possible act of violence by your embarrassment or lack of skills to talk about a difficult issue.

He is in a social contract with you. When you question him about his actions, he may accuse you of invading his privacy but violence against another human being is not a private affair. Violence is a non-negotiable issue. You have to be judgemental about it and it has to be unacceptable to you. Loud and clear! Unambiguous! Please do not mix the issues:

* ‘The protection of women from domestic violence Act is a civil law’
* There is no FIR, so there is no crime’ * ‘Mrs Choksi may be lying!’
* ‘Let us make it a CSR issue’
* ‘Poor NGOs do not have sharp MBAs, let us give them our best player and so what if he is beating his wife. He will learn not to.’

So, who do you think will bear the brunt of the consequences of your inaction? His wife? His children? Sanctioned violence begets more violence. What happens if, like in those scary stories coming out of Gurgaon where some manager killed his wife and carried her body in the bag for a few days, Mukesh cannot stop himself? (Incidentally, that was ‘domestic violence’ too!) What happens if his wife is also your employee? What happens if his wife is an employee of a vendor or a customer? What happens if his wife is Raghav Khurana’s cousin? Or Jeremy Lobo’s daughter? Does your response change? Just because you do not have a contractual obligation to his wife, do you overlook your value framework?

Before I too am labelled as “the emotional contagion” here are some facts:

* The National Crime Records Bureau reported more than 1,18,000 domestic violence incidents in 2013.
* There has been a 134 per cent rise in incidents of domestic violence in India.
* In a National Sample Survey of the Government of India, 53 per cent of the population feels that domestic violence is justified.

Most women who are subjected to violance at homes do not even report the matter. When they do, most people including their own parents tell them to compromise because being a single woman in India is difficult.

Let me tell you about Aditi.She is not one person, but a composite of many Aditis I meet every day. Many Aditis have told me that I could tell their story to people if it helps in stopping even one man from hitting woman. I hope it does.

Aditi sat in front of me. She sobbed. Every sob was like a silent wail. She could not bring herself to find words to express what she had been experiencing over the last 14 years. There was no scar on her face. She was working as a Vice-President, Human Resources, in a large organisation. She had kept quiet. She still did not want to report her husband to the police. She had stayed with him because of the children. She finally found words and said, “He is otherwise a very loving man, you know, do not get me wrong. I do not know what gets into him. He hits me one day and the next day he is apologising to me. Promises me…one more time…that it will never happen again. Then it stops… it stops…for a few days. And then… it happens again. This time, it happened when I asked him what I should tell his mother if she asked me about her doctor’s appointment. His skin twitched. And one more time I did not see his hand coming. One more time I begged him not to hit me. I do not think anyone would believe me. He says that I push him into a position where he cannot control his anger. This time… I am supposed to have made him feel guilty for not looking after his mother. I think I am to blame. I am so effective in my job… assertive, and here I am…not able to protect myself. I wish I could keep him happy.”

Violence in the context of the family is so normalised that even the victim ends up trying to justify the experience. There never are physical scars. But there is a systematic demolition of human beings. If you are a victim of violence, then you stop trusting people. If you have faced violence, then you can feel helpless in all situations that remind you of your loss of control. If you have faced violence, then you blame yourself. If you have faced violence, you end up hoping that things will change but you know that they will not. You want to buy peace with your silence. You are coerced into keeping a secret. Your children are used to you manipulating them into not telling anyone. You are faulted so that you believe that you are dependent on your aggressor.

All this is done to you, not only by the person who is violent towards you, but by the society that wants to sustain the hierarchy of men. Do you want to be an agent of a society that sustains violence towards others? Do you want your children to be perpetrators of violence? Do you want to sanction, condone or live within the framework of violence? Or, do you believe things should be different now? If you do not make a concerted effort to challenge violence by breaking the silence around it, then you would be no better than a khap panchayat, which justifies violence.

There is nothing domestic about violence. All violence is violence, even if a patriarchal society sanctions it. All violence is violence even if men wanting control and power use it as a device. All violence is violence even if it is denied by organisations in fear or flight.

All violence is violence because it is impossible for anyone to be violent until he stops seeing the other person as human. When one human being stops treating another as a human being, it is only a matter of time before he sees all other human beings as objects to be derided, controlled and humiliated.

Dear Mr Basu, Mukesh’s wife has survived for 18 years without your support; she will survive even now. People are resilient. They live through most difficult of circumstances. But how will you survive the fact that unwittingly, by leaving the issue unaddressed, you may have added another layer of helplessness to the experience of another human being?

Here is a possible solution you could try:
* The organisation declares a zero tolerance policy on violence
* Everyone in the organisation signs up to following this policy in the personal and professional domain
* The policy includes a method to intervene when a third party gives information about someone being a perpetrator of violence
* The policy offers avenues of confidential support to employees who face violence through a third party service provider
* After the policy is in place, Abhiram Basu meets Mukesh Madhav and asks him for a response to the allegation
* If he accepts that he has been violent, he is offered a reformative process and a consequence
* If he contests the allegation, then he and his family are referred to a third-party confidential service provider for addressing the difficulties that they are facing
* If through the conversation, it seems that the incident of violence is not isolated and Mukesh is likely to repeat the violence and thus be unsafe for Duwell, he is offered a reformative process and a time away from work.

If you are in a decision-making position in an organisation and you are wondering what you can do, please define violence for your organisation. Declare zero tolerance for violence. Do not limit the definition of violence to physical violence; do include verbal and emotional maltreatment. Let us not wait for a Mukesh Madhav to come and remind us. Let us honour Sarla and Mr Lobo’s daughter before something happens. Invest in people and their minds!

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The writer is Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist, Apollo Hospital and Chairperson, Saarthak, a mental health organisation

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 11-01-2016)