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Case Study: Benign At Work, Violent At Home

“We need more men with the guts, with the courage, with the strength, with the moral integrity to break our complicit silence and challenge each other and stand with women and not against them” — Jackson Katz, co-founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), TED Talk 2013

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Firuza Menon played with her glass running her hand on its rim as she talked to Gen. Hadappa. They were meeting at the Wellington Club for breakfast before she left for work, as Gen. Hadappa was then flying off to Delhi for a two-week camp. Their talk was interspersed with society, with schools (the General was a director of the Diadem Public School), road rage and whatnot. In short, Firuza, the HR Head at Duwell India, was going round and round, unable to hit the center of what she was there to tell him.

Gen. Hadappa, the head of Health at Duwell, loved a hearty breakfast and good company and as the food warmed his heart, he grew less conscious of the purpose of their meeting. At 8 a.m., he was downing aapams with the frenzy of a cyclone.

Whereas Firuza was dealing with a huge storm that had been building inside her since last night.

She went on, “There are acute distortions in people behaviours owing simply to the fact that they are leading extremely stressed out lives. People carry their stress home, and unleash it on their families; it has repercussions on the members’ behaviours, who, in turn, unleash it on friends in the playground, neighbours, vendors, the courier man (“Why the hell do you have to ring the doorbell twice?!”)…”

Gen. Hadappa laughed heartily. “I see a lot of that ha-ha-ha! But don’t you build excuses for men! All boys must target to grow up, and if …” But Firuza was far away, in storm-land as she continued, “ …… children are especially hurt because they do not understand what they see as irrational behaviour in an adult – parent at home, teacher in class…. And as they grow older, your middle-schoolers are known to manifest most unusual behaviours like stealing, or experimenting with forbidden substances, being defiant,deviant behaviours at the wake of puberty…”

The General had seen a lot of that too at the School. So, he was nodding briskly through his aapams, but Firuza’s mind was on the rim of her glass which was squeaking by now as she ran her finger over it with more fervor. “…and angry teachers! They have no patience with puberty and send a note to the parent; the father who is grappling with a mediocre sales manager who lost him the Diwali volumes, thrashes his son, then carries that as a bigger guilt to his workplace, which will manifest in his performance or inter-personal behaviours….

“So it is a never ending drama…”

Anxious Gen. Hadappa put his fork down and looked as Firuza continued, “All these result in behaviours that are varied. Some can be at a moral level (mild flirtations to extra marital affairs or sexual harassment), some in the realms of passive aggression, rudeness. In short, startling behaviours.”

Gen. Hadappa: Are you wishing to increase the scope of our health program for employees?

Firuza: So, it is no more about doing your liver function test, or eating Omega 3; we need to go into the mind – that one area that the X-ray machine, the ultrasound probe, the stethoscope and the Doppler cannot see. What we cannot see is the cause of bigger worry. What is going on in the mind of a person, in his psyche in his collective history… all these you cannot see!

What we see of the employees are his fancy jackets, his best cars and best mobile phones… but none of these can tell if he has just thrashed his wife before coming to work.

Gen. Hadappa choked severely on his aapam. “What?!! What is the matter?”

Firuza: We have been shy and coy about these things for too long. But when you see senior executives, why, any employee with this behaviour, you do wonder if we have paid enough attention to them. For finally everything is a disease.

Gen. Hadappa: I agree! That pilot who went and crashed his plane into the Alps, recently, was later found to be suffering from depression

Firuza: Ah! So then was there neglect on the part of the management, for there were reports filed by his bosses about his lack of fitness, which could have been the starting point of an investigation. That was also a corporate workplace, and a critical one since lives are involved. The other plane that disappeared, there too they suspect it could be mental health as they found enough stuff on the home simulator that pointed to mental disturbance. Mental health issues do not begin all of a sudden. It has a progression and with help it can be spotted and even remedied.

Gen.. Hadappa wiped his moustache and chin and threw the napkin away in distress. “What is going on?” he asked. “You sound frightening!”

Firuza: I got a call from the family of one of our very senior managers. Mukesh Madhav. His mother-in-law called to say that he had been regularly beating her daughter, his wife Sarla, ……. for the last 18 years.”

Firuza had gagged over the duration. Then the severity. Belts, shoes, feet. Overwhelming outrage and anger combined with a certain sense of personal pain had seized her Mrs Choksi had detailed blandly all that usually happened. “I could not take any action as my husband told me to keep out of ‘their’ squabbles,” said Mrs Choksi. “But I cannot watch this any longer. I have to face my Creator soon. Sarla wishes to keep it quiet as kids are growing up. But I feel kids have to also grow up right. If they see their grandparents turning a blind eye to a criminal act, why should I then bother to teach them honesty, integrity, brotherhood etc.?”

Firuza was getting into bed when Mrs Choksi had called. Shaking with a mix of fury and fear and fright and anger and God knows what else, she knew she would never sleep. She remained sitting for 15 minutes breathing deeply. Then she got out of bed and went to the drawing room and called her boss, the MD Abhiram Basu.

“Is everything ok? It is 11.30 p.m.!” said Basu taken aback.

Abhiram lived in the B-Wing of Heliconia and met her in the common lobby of their building where they sat and talked.

Firuza: No she has never lodged a complaint, no FIR, according to Mrs. Choksi, not even shared with her doctor. She has a twisted ankle from him; a gash on her hips, a damaged eye which she wears well…. I wonder if family doctors also help in protecting family name.

Parents? Mrs. Choksi did urge her husband but he has been concerned about his second daughter’s groom-hunt. He told off Sarla with, ‘You are married and you need to take care of your life.’ What the hell, Abhi… which era are we living in?

“Do you think he is schizophrenic? How could he hide his true self so well?. Did we for instance suspect even once in these 12 years that he has been with us, that he is a domestically violent man?

Abhiram: Look, this is very complex. It sounds so horrible to say this, but I have never dealt with a situation like this. Give me time to think. I am off to Detroit for the Forum. Let me think about this when I am away. And when I am back let us discuss this at length and see what we can do.

Firuza was confused. The best she could do was be polite. “Sure, you have a safe and good trip,” she managed and left, thinking to herself, “Is this enough response?”

As she rode up the lift to the 26th floor, she recalled her talk with Sarla, “You make sure you are safe, call me anytime of day or night. Here is the number of a very good friend Divya Rathod who runs an investigation firm and she has many cops attached to her organisation. If a need arises call her. Divya’s team will reach you in 15 minutes.”

How should a corporate respond? What are the choices available? She was disturbed immensely. Mukesh was their senior sales manager. He was a good performer…. Didn’t talk much but was pleasant. But the brute behind the façade never showed….

Ok so she was going to consult the others in the management committee. (MC) What are the choices available to a corporate? What does the culture of the organisation have to do with dealing with a situation like this? Who are the people who will be taking the decision as to what needs to be done?

Firuza needed to do a one-to-one with the management committee (MC) members to establish their responses and suggestions. Importantly, their reaction. As soon as Gen. Hadappa left, Firuza began making calls to the MC members one by one. She wanted to tell them what happened in a personal way. The MC had seven men and three women senior managers. Over the phone they were each, actually shocked. “My God!” “What a guy!” “Unbelievable!” “How could he!” “Good Lord!”!

She called for an MC meeting that day at 10 am. And two messaged her to say they were ‘constrained’ and could not attend. One of them was Gen. Hadappa who she had met.

At 10 a.m., eight of the MC including herself were in that conference room.

MC1: I know this is tricky, but we better consult our lawyers first. Let us not make a bad move.

Firuza: So we will; But what do you think as an organisation? As a management? This is also an important moment in our management. This is about Duwell and the culture and the message we want to send out.

MC1: But nothing has happened at work Firuza, we need to look from that point. What locus standi do we have?

Jha (MC2): I might have said that too. I was once hauled to court by someone for wrongful dismissal, albeit for a different reason. And I am still attending to that case! So keep me out of this till we have a lawyer’s advice.

Firuza: But I want us to decide what we want to do with this guy. Speak your thoughts, your feelings, now. This is why I called the meeting. What do we feel about what has happened. How are we treating this. Are we going to issue a personal warning? In writing? What language are we going to use?

Jha: While talking to the chap you mean?

Firuza: Also. And what will be our language and tone when we share this with our vendors and customers with whom he has been interacting? Member industry CEOs who are close to us? Also, are we going to call him here and address him and his actions? I feel there has to be an organisational gaze on this. A viewpoint that goes out to him to say we condemn his actions.

Aarti Sinha (MC3): Why are you wanting to talk to vendors and CEOs? This is an internal matter, and even that I am not sure.

Dilip Manek (MC4): Exactly! How is it an organisation matter? Let us be careful how we trod. It is all very well to be empathetic and all that, but
Duwell is in the business of manufacturing and selling printers and computer peripherals. If it bothers you so much, ask him to go on some pretext or other. But please I feel we should steer clear. We have no context. No locus standi, as it were.

MC 1: My feeling too. And I also tend to agree with Aarti; why are you thinking of vendors?

Firuza: Mukesh is head of institutional sales. No less. He has had direct engagement with institutions and their CEOs. Let us assume we sack him, won’t they ask why he has been asked to go? If you have 50 member companies, then you have 50 CEOs and 50 CEOs are going to say, ‘Heck, this is all about our businesses also. If it is happening there it is happening here too.’ We have a role here towards a larger society.

MC 2 : First of all, why should we sack him? Firuza I know how you feel, but do think, has he done something to damage the company? The business? We have a context only via our business. Not otherwise. Sacking is extreme. I might with a pinch, go with Dilip’s suggestion – ease him out on pretext of poor performance, even if it doesn’t make sense. (general titter among MCs) The idiot has actually been a top rate performer. So we will find some reason. Point is, we cannot sack him, seriously!

Aarti: We don’t want to bring the organisation under the scanner. The next thing you know we will be Breaking News. This country has gone bananas, every thing is Breaking News. Let us not draw attention to ourselves.

Dilip: Don’t mind my saying this, but how do we know it is true? The lady may be just venting, for all we know! Why should we get involved in domestic issues? There is always a story, who is right and who is wrong… how will we know? I am not getting into this.

Firuza: Whoever is right or wrong, beating your spouse is an exertion of your superiority, your force on another! Violence certainly means you are a human who is dangerous to keep. (Firuza was now extremely upset. As individuals they had all been alarmed and outraged. But as a committee they all reached out for fig leaves…)

Dilip: Firuza, I know how you feel. You talk like a woman. You need to be genderless and talk as a manager. Is this what Duwell should be getting involved in?
Incredulous, Firuza looked around the room. All eyes were on her and in doubt. Were there ‘roles’ for saving society? Saving a woman? She looked at Dilip and said, “I am thinking with you. If you met with an accident tomorrow and I saw you sprawled on the street, what must I do – step back and say well, some cop will eventually saunter past and he will call the hospital. This is a police case, let me not get involved, who knows what the real story is; maybe he was drunk…!’ Yes?

A chorus of exclamations went up from the six around the conference table. Aarti held her head. Jha said, “Shubh shubh bolo, Firuza! There should be auspiciousness in how we speak…”

Firuza: And not in how we think? In how we feel and even act? Last year there was a rat in your AC duct. Did you not raise a ruckus and have the whole of admin smoke out the poor creature and even kill it? Did you not say there was a stench and they should deodorise and air and sun the vent? Did you not suggest and demand finally that they block the hole in the roof through which the rat entered the vent?

I am doing exactly that. There is a rat among us. I think he needs to go.

Jha: Emotion gets you nowhere. I agree he has done a rotten thing, but that happened in his home, over a domestic issue. Do we have a responsibility? I don’t know. I have never had to face a situation where a manager beat his wife, (and he followed that with a poor joke). Hence I would say get the lawyer and let him decide.

MC1: And one more point. There is no FIR. So, what lawyer? She never filed a complaint, nothing in writing… on what basis do we penalise the chap?
Aarti: You mean there is no FIR? Oh! Then, Firuza, I really think we should not and cannot do a thing!

Much shuffling of feet happened and finally Jha decided the head of Legal Ajay Deolali should be taken into confidence and this matter be checked with him.
This is what happened: In a conference call with Firuza and Jha, Ajay said, “If the wife has not filed a complaint or an FIR it does not fall in the ambit of organisational purview, it is pure domestic violence.”

Firuza: There is a law called ‘Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act-2005’. If an offence comes under this Act, then is it not by default a criminal offence? That would mean we are harbouring a criminal, Ajay!

Deolali: There is no legal position you have. He did not do any wrongful act in the office or during work anywhere else, nor to an employee.

Firuza: And his family is not a part of my organisation?

Deolali (shrugging): Those are emotional handles.

Jha: The guy does have problems. What if Firuza wishes to remove him from our employment?

Deolali: On grounds that he beat his wife? I don’t think that will wash. You can claim mental imbalance but you will need proof. We will need to talk to Mr Basu, the MD.

Firuza: As HR, I have a responsibility to uphold the values of the organisation. If a manager commits acts that bring the organisation disrepute I must step in. When one of our lady managers was challaned for drunken driving last month, I did not say, that she was in her car not company car, in her time not company time, on the streets and not in our premises. I had all those options. Her responsible behaviour anywhere, repeat ANYWHERE, I consider crucial for organisational health.

The onus is on the manager to clear his name with us. The allegation is not ‘he hit me yesterday’. The allegation is, “He has been bashing me up for 18 years…” The allegation is not based on witness of the postman or pizza delivery boy; the allegation is by his wife, no less. We must confront him and he must explain. We cannot have managers go about beating up their wives and we turn our backs. Something is clearly wrong with us, if we are thinking of our intellectual immunity and not the health of our extended family, the larger society.

Jha: Firuza, this is a business organisation, dear girl.

Firuza: And we are a crucial member of society too.

Deolali: And what do we do if the law does not permit?

Firuza: We don’t need the law to permit. We need a law that defines a crime and it has. And if the law allows us to choose to look the other way, I say, go change the law. It is time.

Hot around the ears, her heart pounding with humiliation, Firuza stood at her window when the call ended. She recalled Sarla’s words, “I took help of our family elder who is actually the head of our local community. He told me it was my fate to deal with it. Sometimes I took my husband along and he always managed to extricate himself. Nuts and bolts, nothing came out of it. If anything, they thumped his back and said, ‘Be good…’ It was the world according to men, after all….”

But Firuza did not think so. There were men who would back her …

To be continued...

Case Analysis By Somasekhar Sundaresan
Case Analysis By Anjali Byce
Case Analysis By Viju Parameshwar

casestudymeera@gmail.com

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 28-12-2015)