In an unprecedented action against complainants of harassment in the workplace, a woman working at the National Rural Health Mission was sacked from her job and another four were suspended.
The five of them had filed a complaint in September about bad behaviour of their superior, namely the Mother and Child Health Officer, who allegedly shouted and publicly humiliated them in their workplace and created a toxic working environment.
Before getting their respective termination and suspension letters two of the complainants received letters warning them against making any complaints, signed by the District Magistrate of East Garo Hills, Jagdish Chelani.
The letter, dated November 21, said that an enquiry into the complaint against Dr Lobingwell M Sangma, the MCH, was done by the Additional District Magistrate and that it was found that the complainants “showed indiscipline towards the authorities and acted in violation of conduct rules. The complaint was found erroneous.”
Strangely for whatever reasons, this letter of warning was sent to only two of the women who complained and not to all five of them.
However, it is learnt that the Additional DM, Dimsertha A Sangma, who conducted the inquiry, had allegedly refused to record the statements of the complainants during her inquiry. This made matters even more controversial as her report, which gives a clean chit to the MCH, is contested by the complainants.
The September complaint letter was signed by five women workers but only one of them was fired from her job. She received the letter terminating her from her job on December 9 and it was signed by the NRHM Director, Ram Singh, and it came without any notice.
The complaint letter clearly stated that the MC&HO threw his weight around, shouted at them, used “wanton” and “bombastic” words at them, publicly humiliated them and generally made life hell for them at work.
Since it was getting out of hand, the five workers decided to write to the DHS with copies sent to the Health Minister, James PK Sangma, the Meghalaya Human Rights Commission and several pressure groups.
This incident is concerning from the perspective that it seems that complaining about their problems even in a government workspace could mean the loss of their jobs.
The workers did not know where to file their complaints in the absence of an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), which is mandatory under the law. In the absence of a departmental ICC, the District Magistrate is designated to set up an ICC where the majority of members are women with local NGOs as members. But this was not done in this controversial case.