Contracted for Harassment

"I can handle my work at the site as well as the laborers. It is the officials of the Public Works Division (PWD) whom I can't handle. They have such a horrid attitude towards women!" declares Meena Mahule, one of the 200-odd women registered as government contractors in Nagpur, Maharashtra. "They ask you directly, 'Madam, beer bar chalte kya (will you come to the beer bar with me)?' I have had to give up several contracts (worth Rs 50,000-60,000) because of this harassment. I need to marry so that my husband can handle these officials for me," says Mahule.

Mahule says that though their work is distributed through draw of lots, much depends on the PWD junior engineer. "The schedule, the permission to start work, record keeping - everything is done by the junior engineer. He can hold up work or payment at any stage. Unlike men, the women mostly don't have to face blatant demands for money, but there are other, overt or covert demands."

Until 1996, there were no women contractors (civil engineers by training) in Maharashtra. The field was dominated by a handful of families who had been in the business for generations. It was only in 1996, when the state government started a scheme for allotting minor works (up to a personal limit of Rs 1.5 million per engineer [1US$=Rs 44]) to unemployed engineers that women got an opportunity to enter the field. Today, out of the nearly 3,000 engineers registered with the PWD in Nagpur, some 200 are women.

For most, it has been an uphill task. The family system, social norms - even the trade unions - work to discredit, exploit and finally push the women out of this profession.

Why is there such a strong bias against women contractors?

"The women don't work," claims Vinay Bhajipale, Nagpur district President of the Maharashtra Engineers Association. "They mostly sublet the work allotted to them. The work is too rough for them."

While Bhajipale's views reflect the general perception about women contractors, the women insist that the reality is different. "When I and some other women approached the union for membership about two years ago," says Bharavi Deshkar, "We were told that we should take the 'easy' way out - sublet the work at a percentage to the male members of the union. The pressure grew so great that finally we withdrew from the union."

"The union has never had any special agenda for women. Women have never been allowed to serve on the work distribution committee (comprising of officials of the PWD and other union members)," says Shakir Abbas Ali, President of the newly launched Indian Unemployed Engineers Association, which hopes to make a difference.

Family pressure is even harder to combat. Says Y R Kalbande of the Maharashtra Engineers Association, "Women only work as contractors till they are married. Once married, their husbands take over."

Unfortunately, this is the case with an alarmingly large number of women engineers. Says Archana Nannaware, "The in-laws tend to see the daughter-in-law's work as a kind of family business. In my case, I was told to mind the house while my husband went to the site to look after my work. It came to a point where I realized that he was taking over completely."

However, the most difficult problem faced by the women is that of sexual harassment. This not only affects their performance, but discourages many women to the extent that they are forced to resign themselves to the much maligned role of 'percentage takers'.

While women often deny being harassed when questioned directly, their restrictive way of working indicates how sexual harassment is inhibiting their growth as engineers. For example, most women admit that they can't ever go to the site without a male escort. "You come across many dirty characters in this field," says Shobha Lakhe, a civil engineer. "In particular, the junior engineers. I never ever go with them alone. My brother is always with me."

Speaking about a particularly successful and well-known woman contractor, another contractor alleges that she gets more cushy assignments as entertains the junior engineers.

The union office bearers deny the existence of the problem. Says Bhajipale, "We have not received any complaint of sexual harassment. And anyway, how can there be harassment when none of the women ever go to the site without a father, a brother or a husband?"

Mahule says women don't give a formal complaint for fear of losing their contract. There is little scope for the women to seek justice. "Women are less than 10 per cent of all the registered engineers in the city," says Darshana Donekar, "Who will listen to such a minority unless the union backs it?"

Says Neelima Reethe, a senior contractor, "There was much more hostility towards women when I first entered the field nine years ago. Now women are better accepted. Of course, this is not enough. We have to survive in this field, and we do so with whatever means we have at our disposal."   


More by :  Aparna Pallavi

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Comment Our Housing Society Office Bearers, Have been Harassing us and Demanding Money from us for no reason Since 2003, and have always taken advantage of their post, and misuse their powers.. They do not have any Records or Documents of the Amount Money, They keep demanding from us, But very smartly add Interest to that amount Every Year. Only Because we have asked them for an explanation of the amount, which they do not seem to have. They Threaten to Seize our room and Cut our Water Supply, if we dont agree to their Demands.They even sent a letter to the NMMC Ward Officer Water Dept, Nerul , Navi Mumbai. to disconnect our Water supply.. They even send Notices Demanding Money Directly on our Name.Though they have not made us Members till date in the society. Even the Monthly Service Charges we pay every month, even those Receipts are given on the Previous Owners Name. In the Notice sent, their Advocate has demanded 1,000/- Rs One thousand only ,extra for the notice sent , however they demand 16,000/- Rs Sixteen thousand as legal fees.In their other Notice sent by another Advocate to us demanding 1,500/- Rs One thousand five hundred only, extra for the notice sent, however they demand 25,000/- Rs Twenty-five thousand and more as legal fees and litigation etc..Reason best known to them..Why?? Mr S M Shrivastav - [Former Secretary], Mr Anant Rajput - [Former Secretary]
Mr Ashish Sheety - [Secretary], Mr Vijay Kadam - [Treasurer]
Mr D D Kolte - [Chairman / President] Since 1996, Till Date.
None of them have been able to provide any explanation regarding the amount they keep demanding from us.Reason best known to them Why?? We were told to go to court by Mr D D Kolte - [Chairman / President] regarding this issue. We Were so fed up and tired by the harassment and illegal demands by the societies office bearers. So as a consumer we filed a complaint In the Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum. CBD Navi Mumbai. My complaint no 45/2010 in Feb 2010. However when ever we were called to Court several times, The society office bearers Never Came. As they think they are the Landlords of the Society. However surprisingly an order was passed in Dec 2010, After nearly a year. By Mr R D Mhetras [President], and Mrs Jyoti A Mandhle [Member], That this complaint cannot be put up in the Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum. CBD Navi Mumbai and Dismissed the Case.. Unfortunately Housing societies do not come under the RTI Act 2005 So We approached the Joint Registrar of CoOperative Housing Societies. CBD Navi Mumbai. Though we have been writing to the Joint Registrar of CoOperative Housing Societies. CBD Navi Mumbai. Since 2006 to get this issue cleared however we have not got any favorable response on this issue. So we wrote an RTI application , Not One But we had to write Three RTI applications, Since May 2011. But no information was given to us.Again.. So we gave another RTI application Our Second Appeal To The Commissioner , State Information Commission, CBD Navi Mumbai in Sept 2011. However its been 4 months and we have not received any information from the Commissioner, State Information Commission, CBD Navi Mumbai. nor from the Joint Registrar of CoOperative Housing Societies. CBD Navi Mumbai. In fact we also sent a reminder to The Commissioner, State Information Commission, CBD Navi Mumbai. Regarding our RTI application.. We received a letter from the Joint Registrar of CoOperative Housing Societies. CBD Navi Mumbai, calling us no the 8th of Dec 2011. As they had received a letter from The Commissioner, State Information Commission, CBD Navi Mumbai. Appeal No KR2075/2011, Dated 14th Oct 2011. Requesting them to give us the Information we had asked for, However when we were called in the office the Joint Registrar Mr Vikas Rasal ,told us that No information can be provided since the RTI Applications were not in proper format the way he wants it to be when we asked what is the proper format He said I am not here to give Advise and refused to give any thing in writing..And WASTED another day of ours.. Is Our System So Bad...That a common man has to wait so long for Justice and still does not know weather he will get Justice or not.... AS DELAY IN JUSTICE IS INJUSTICE.. The Office Bearers have still not given us any Explanation of the Money they keep Demanding. Though we have requested them many Times.since 2003(nearly 9 years). The Joint Registrar of Co operative housing societies have also ignored all are request which we have been writing since 2006 (nearly 6 years). The Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum. CBD Navi Mumbai. Took nearly a year only to decide, That this complaint cannot be put up in the Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum. CBD Navi Mumbai And now The RTI Act seems to waste our time as well. Leave aside Justice we just need Information .. As It Seems RTI Act Is Just A Waste Of Time, Which We Pay For.. However My Family and i have decided not to give up and not to Given to their illegal demands and to fight against such Dishonest people in our Society..
Daniel Murzello

Room No 3, Prarthana Chs,

Sector 18/A, Plot no 185,

Nerul, Navi Mumbai
Contact no 9702 842 999

Daniel Murzello
17-Mar-2012 00:51 AM

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