Modi Government Keeps ‘Disposing’ My Sexual Harassment Complaints, But Does Nothing: Survivor Speaks Out

Screenshot of the Narendra Modi (NaMo) App.

MUMBAI, Maharashtra — Over the summer, a woman living in Mumbai, who says she was molested by an army officer in Kashmir, did everything in her power to reach out to the Modi government.

“Modi ji,” she wrote in on of her many letters, “as a woman and moreover as an Indian woman I am afraid. I have been molested by one officer and violated by several others in the name of Court of Inquiry. I have maintained my patience for four months now but it is running out now.”

The army she felt had closed ranks with the accused, Lieutenant Colonel M. Nagaraj, and subjected her to an inquiry that was humiliating and futile. The police case she felt was moving at a glacial pace.

“The main post holder, the PM, who says I’m the Pradhan Sevak and not the Pradhan Mantri. Dammit. The entire nation is on fire because misbehaving with women,” she told HuffPost India in an interview.

The 34-year-old woman, who says she was molested on the intervening night of 2 and 3 January, 2018, sent letters to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), filled in the applications on the Government of India’s public grievance redressal website and even registered complaints via the NaMo (Narendra Modi) app.

All that she has to show for her efforts are automated texts with registration numbers, recollections of unanswered phone calls, and false promises made by faceless bureaucrats and their personal secretaries.

Her experience suggests that despite the Modi government’s vaunted commitment to citizen outreach, the glitzy apps, websites and online dashboards are simply a facade for the same, unresponsive, plodding bureaucracy.

“I remember this distinctly. I asked the person who answered the phone, ‘What is your name.’ The person said, ‘Sir, will call you back’ and just banged the phone down. That’s it,” the woman said, describing her attempt to speak with V Anandarajan, the Defense Ministry officer, who was assigned to help her via the government’s public grievance redressal website.

Screenshot of message on the Public Grievance Redressal website.

The woman said that she phoned Anandarajan six to seven times on the landline number which was provided along with his name on the website, but he never spoke to her.

“First time, he was not in office. Then, I was told that he is in a meeting and I will have to call him later. Then, when I persisted, someone said that he will call you back. I left my numbers but he never did,” she said.

Once, the officer’s secretary, who, she assumes felt a pang of sympathy after her incessant phoning, told her to fax a copy of her complaint.

“He said that he would try to put a copy of my complaint on the officer’s table and then ask him to call,” she said.

A few days later, on April 28, the woman found the case had been disposed of on the public grievance redressal website.

The entire nation is on fire because misbehaving with women.

Screenshot of the message on public grievance redressal website

One line in the notification reads, “Copy of the letter dated 06 Feb sent to you by the concerned department for further necessary action.” The 6 February date makes no sense given that 10 March is receiving date of the complaint.

“How are you sending me a letter in February when I have only written to you in March,” said the woman.

Deepak Singh, her husband, pitched in. “These are automated notification that are randomly sent. They have no meaning. This is a disaster,” he said.

The public grievance redressal website currently boasts that it has disposed of 12,24,367 out of 13,34,816 grievances it has received in 2018.

The Defense Ministry has not responded to HuffPost India’s questions, detailing the above mentioned sequence of events.

These are automated notification that are randomly sent. They have no meaning. This is a disaster.

READ: An Army Officer Molested Me In A Garrison In Kashmir, The Inquiry Made It Worse: Survivor Speaks Out

A futile exercise

Earlier this week, HuffPost India published a story, detailing how disillusioned and distraught the woman felt during the army’s Court of Inquiry into her allegation of sexual harassment against Lt. Col. Nagaraj. The officer in question is still stationed at the Manasbal Garrison in Kashmir.

An equally troubling facet of her ordeal was how she was treated by authorities outside the army.

As she sought help on three other fronts, the Prime Minister’s office, the National Commission for Women and the Maharashtra State Commission for Women, the woman realized how all these resources led to a dead end.

After she had failed to reach Anandarajan, the woman registered her complaint at least seven more times over the course of the summer, either directly through the public grievance redressal website or through the NaMo app which leads to the same site.

The second time she was assigned another officer from the Defense Ministry, Avinash K. Srivastava, whose designation was mentioned on the website, but there was no contact number.

It was the woman who had to use the Google search engine to identify Srivastava, but the number she found for him did not work. It turned out to be a dead end as she never heard from the officer who was assigned to help her.

The Defense Ministry has not responded to HuffPost India’s questions, detailing the above mentioned sequence of events.

The third time she registered her complaint, the woman was assigned an officer named PP Singh, whose contact information was not provided. It once again proved to be a dead end because she could not find Singh after a Google search.

The woman never heard from Singh, but on 2nd May, she received a text on her cell phone saying the case had been disposed of.

Screenshot of texts received by the complainant.

After that, the woman said she registered complaints on 2 July, 21 July, 27 July, 13 August and 21 August, but to no avail.

“I was like a bull trying to get into the system. The idea was to write complaints until I got somebody’s attention, until somebody listened,” she said. “By July, I was even writing I’m pregnant, I have been advised bed rest, but still no one listened or responded.”

The idea was to write complaints until I got somebody’s attention, until somebody listened.

Women’s commission is no better

Of the various people and platforms that she reached out for help, the woman was confident that she would hear back from the National Commission for Women (NCW) and Maharashtra State Commission for Women.

In her second letter to the addressed to NCW’s chairperson Rekha Sharma, which she sent in April, the woman wrote, “I’m writing this letter to you with a broken heart and a fear if as a woman I am really safe in this country. I am running from pillar to post to seek justice in my case and what I am getting in return is sheer humiliation, that too from men of Indian Armed forces,” she wrote.

So, when she heard from an NCW official named Smita Jha

on 10 May, three months after she had first written to the body, the woman said she was thrilled. Jha, she said, had called to take her home address in order to register her complaint with NCW and assign her a counselor.

“I told her I’m so happy to hear from because till that point no one was even acknowledging me. Whether it was the PMO, defense ministry, I just couldn’t get through anybody. At least someone called me,” she said.

“I even told her, ‘Smita ji, you don’t know what this call means to me’,” she said.

The woman says she never heard back from Jha, the counselor, or anyone else from the NCW, and she never received an email.

When she dialed the landline number from which Jha had called her, the woman says it connected to the automated exchange which said, “Dial 1 for, Dial 2 for…Dial 7 for…”

The woman says she would dial, click on each option, hang up after no one answered, and then dial back. The woman recalls repeating the exercise at least seven times.

“So desperately I tried to get in touch with that lady. Then, you get exhausted. There is no other number to get through. Then, you give up,” she said.

The NCW has not responded to HuffPost India’s questions, detailing the above mentioned sequence of events.

Then, you get exhausted. There is no other number to get through. Then, you give up.

A month later, on June 12, four months after she first wrote to the Maharashtra State Commission for Women (MSCW), the woman says she received a call from Sejal Pawar, a lawyer who works with the MSCW.

Pawar, she said, had called to say that she was sending her a letter, which the woman should carry with her when a meeting is scheduled.

After her experience with the NCW, the woman said that she had learnt her lesson and requested Pawar for her cellphone number.

Pawar declined but reassured the woman that she would be available on the landline. It was the last time that she heard from Pawar.

When the woman did not receive the letter that Pawar had spoken of, she called back on the landline number.

On June 19, the woman says, the receptionist who answered the boardline number of the MSCW, said that Pawar was not present.

On June 20th, the woman says, the receptionist told her that Pawar was in court for the day.

On June 21st, the woman says, the receptionist told her that she could not transfer the call and advised her patiently wait for the letter.

No letter from the MSCW has reached her. No one has called, she said.

The MSCW has not responded to HuffPost India’s questions, detailing the above mentioned sequence of events.

“I understand they received several complaints a day, but that is what these places have been made for. How does it matter then whether they receive 10 or 100 complaints in a day? How can they leave even a single complaint?” the woman asked.

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