Guwahati: While the #MeToo movement is catching up across the country only recently, with several women from across fraternities outing their harassers, Assam had its own #MeToo moment way back in 2003.
In a recent Facebook post, Sabita Lahkar, a woman journalist working with an Assamese daily Amar Asom, recounted her ‘harrowing experience’ of being allegedly sexually harassed for three years by Homen Borgohain, a Sahitya Akademi Award winner and currently the chief editor of Assamese daily Niyamiya Barta.
Lahkar, who was then a chief sub-editor at Amar Asom, was allegedly subjected to sexual harassment for the first time by Borgohain in 2000. Notwithstanding the abuse, Lahkar complained to both MK Goswami, the then executive editor of the Assamese daily, about Borgohain’s misconduct. She was assured of action against Borgohain, and was advised to report to the executive editor only when necessary.
Lahkar, who is currently working as freelance journalist based in Guwahati, told EastMojo, “Although Borgohain stopped his harassment for a while, that didn’t continue for long, as he got back to his old habits and started “making sexual overtures” to me again.”
Not being able to take it anymore, Lahkar submitted her resignation, but the management did not respond to it. Sensing her anger, Borgohain allegedly called her to his residence and gave her “clear indication” that “she would be able to climb up the career ladder in lieu of sexual favour given to him”.
Lahkar finally, called for a press conference at Guwahati Press Club on September 10, 2003, where she laid her sexual harassment allegations against Borgohain and the management’s lack of action out in the public. She was then forced to resign from her post at the vernacular daily.
When asked about the kind of support she received from the journalistic fraternity, Lahkar said, “Although some journalists did extend their support to my cause, there were many who doubted my allegations. Some of them, who did appreciate my courage, were scared of coming out in the open and standing with me.”
She also lodged an FIR on September 17, 2003 at the Paltan Bazar police station in Guwahati against Borgohain (case No: 321/17-09-03, Section 354/509 IPC).
She followed it up with a letter to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on November 22, 2003, narrating her ordeal, She also approached the State Human Rights Commission, the State Women Commission, as well as the Press Council of India and the Editors’ Guild of India, among other bodies.
Talking about the kind of response she received from all these bodies regarding her complaints, Lahkar pointed out, “The Assam Human Rights commission had asked the management of Amar Asom to constitute a committee along the lines of Vishakha committee. Although the newspaper did constitute a redressal committee and called me to record my grievances but Borgohain was never called by the committee.”
She added, “No action was taken against the perpetrator by the police either, and everything remained on paper, Borgohain was not even summoned or interrogated by any authority concerned.”
Given Borgohain’s stature and the popularity he enjoys among the literary circle, Lahkar did not receive any support whatsoever from the so-called intellectuals and the litterateurs of the state, alleged Lahkar.
While Lahkar still awaits justice, Borgohain continues to enjoy the status of a revered journalist, not just in Assam, but in the whole of India, and is currently working as the chief editor of Niyamiya Barta, a leading Assamese daily.
When asked if she has witnessed any changes in the way women journalists who have been victims of sexual harassment are treated by the members of the fraternity or society as a whole, Lahkar said, “I do not see much change in the way things happened then and now. Victims are re-victimised by their fellow journalists, their relatives, as well as society.”
Talking about the wave of #MeToo across the country and the world, Lahkar said, “#MeToo is definitely something that is going to go a long way in helping women to come out in the open and name their perpetrators. When I outed Borgohain, I did not receive any such support. But, this movement gives victims like us hope for justice.” She further stressed, “We cannot let the movement fizzle out and we must stand with each other, and see to it that sexual harassment accused are named and shamed.”
With the more and more women coming forward with their harrowing sexual harassment accounts, there is a different narrative that is doing the rounds these days which says that women employees must not be hired to keep such controversies at bay. Lahkar was of the opinion, “One cannot look for a solution by chopping off tree, and it is the root that needs to be treated.”
Despite attempts to get in touch with Homen Borgohain, the veteran journalist remains unreachable to present his side of the story.