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Here’s What Happened When I Reported Harassment At A Famous Indian Uni In Dubai

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Since the harassers’ list in India has been growing by every passing second, there are also a lot of skeptics. I already wrote about the ‘time issue’ argument for people who doubt Tanushree Dutta simply because this case is gaining the attention it deserves 10 years from when it had happened.

In this post, I want to answer those who smugly say “why don’t you just report?” 

I want to share with you the story of workplace harassment at a famous Indian University in Dubai. And the reason I am not naming specific people is that I already won what I could and since those people are powerful and wealthy, I don’t want them harming my family in any way. Also, I have multiple sexual harassment stories as well and the one that is the least worse of all is this, the one that I have had the courage to share.

And before you say “then why are you sharing the story if you don’t want to name them”, I am sharing this to explain what a woman goes through when she reports harassment in the workplace, even when she wins ultimately (or what seems like victory).

So here it goes.

The year was 2012. I was in my second year Ph.D. in the UK when I was applying for work around the world.

I applied at this very famous Indian university that was just opening its first branch in Dubai. I got accepted. Although leaving the UK was an extraordinary decision, I decided to continue writing the rest of my thesis from overseas and visit the UK once or twice for annual reviews.

I arrived at the university and it felt great for a very short period. And then the staff that was brought from India revealed the horrors of that place. Few among them were:

  1. Since the university was in the establishment period, the staff that was brought from their Noida campus was UNPAID! Yes, they were provided a company-sponsored place to stay and some allowance for phone and that’s it. No pay.
  2. They were made to work countless extra hours for no extra pay anyway. That included staff like me. They made us work weekends and called us 2 hours early, let us off 2-3 hours late and not a penny was counted in the extra hours.
  3.  The most horrendous among all was the sexual harassment women were facing from the VC, a Pakistani dude. The Indian dude, Dean was an accomplice. He knew everything and laughed off. Both old dudes, middle-aged.

I had to find a place to live because the company sponsored place was only provided for 30 days. The rule in Dubai is that the rent is collected for 6-12 months in advance. That makes people take debt from their employers which in turn becomes extremely torturous. I shall explain how in a minute.

Anyway, one fine morning, I, like the rest of the women faculty received an email from the HR lady (who was used as a garb by the 2 old dudes as an HR authority, but honestly she was only an assistant doing all the HR related paperwork for them and they were the only decision makers).

The email said that all women faculty were supposed to wear miniskirts in order to look ‘professional for an MBA teaching faculty’.

I found this weird because I was lecturing back in the UK and wore both western and ethnic clothes but never once was told to wear a skirt. We are highly qualified doctoral-level women not staff at a McDonalds. No university I have ever been to has ever had any dress-code or uniform for the women faculty and I have traveled half of Europe for guest lectures and doctoral workshops.

At lunch that day, when I met the other women, they all complained about this. Most of them were middle-aged mothers who had worn saree their entire lives. They were appalled at this idea of wearing tight skirts as many of them had post-pregnancy body issues and other reservations.

While discussing this, they opened up about the sexual harassment going on from that Pakistani dude, the VC and the enabling of his behavior by the Indian dude, the dean. Troubling as it was, I told myself one problem at a time.

So after lunch as I headed back to my desk, I decided to write to the HR lady (obviously oblivious to the fact that she isn’t the one who made the rule and she isn’t the one who will hear me out) and CC’d it to the women she had already sent the circular to.

I clearly explained that as much as we women respect the university policies, I at least am not comfortable with wearing a certain dress 30 days a month. I have days when I am not feeling so well and would need 4-5 days to be in something comfortable that would make me able to do my job as expected (I didn’t mention the word period or menstruation but implied it). I also mentioned how this was not mentioned in the contract and neither of the other women was happy with it. Plus, as lecturers, our performance is enabled by the power of our knowledge and not the length of our skirt (something like this, just more polite). Hence, re-consider and invite us all to talk about this.

Hell broke loose.

MeToo Campaign

I was called in to speak with the dean, the Indian old dude, while the poor innocent HR lady just sat there silently.

He asked about the email and said he was horrified that I implied menstruation. He said, “what if some male faculty saw this somehow?” 

I didn’t know our male colleagues would faint if they came to know that their female colleagues bled once a month.

He gave me a lecture on shame and refused to hear my issue with the dress code. He bluntly said, “we want you to apologize in writing”.

I got back to the hotel and kept thinking where I went wrong. It was the night of September 25, a few hours before midnight, my 24th birthday.

I spent my birthday in an absolute horror and disgust about the situation I had gotten myself in. Next day at work, after I logged in my computer, I wrote a one-liner email simply saying “I apologize”. I had to keep the job, didn’t I?

By mid-day, I was called again. I was busy prepping my MBA students for a fantastic field trip at a highly exclusive Chocolate factory in Dubai.

All ruined. After all male ego trumps student learning.

I went into the room, this time the VC’s office and he was there too.

I was quiet, wanted to see what was going on.

This time the VC started blasting me. It wasn’t sexual in nature but personal remarks, name-calling, and intimidation. I asked politely multiple times, “what do you want me to do, I already apologized?”

The two old men kept abusing and intimidating me, threatening me but never directly answered what they wanted from me.

An hour or two later, when they finally let me go, soon after the HR lady sent someone and asked me to meet her in the ground floor toilets.

I went. She said they wanted me to beg! 

The formal apology, the written apology was not enough.

Since the male ego was hurt, they wanted me to tremble and beg and make promises to follow orders like a puppy.

I returned back to the hotel that day cried like a little baby when I shared all of this with my dad.

The humiliation and intimidation from that day were unbearable. I couldn’t take it anymore.

The next day I wrote to their dean and VC in India. One was a lady another was a man.


I repeatedly wrote to higher authorities, reporting about the intimidation, but never once have I heard back from them.

So to all those people who say “why didn’t you speak or tell someone,” well this is it.

Those people in power didn’t respond to me but obviously would have spoken about this with the people involved and guess what was the decision?

They suspended me! 

For what? For daring to question why the women faculty were being forced to wear miniskirts.

And with the suspension, they asked me to pay a huge amount for the accommodation and other things.

I had no recourse.

I went to the Office of Labour and Employment in Dubai. They have a complaints section where employees can seek mediation on their issues. And if they don’t get a satisfactory response, they can then take the case to Dubai Courts.

These egotistical men didn’t have enough harassing a 24-year-old kid, they pushed me to the point that I went to that mediation office.

They were asked to come in as well. At the meeting, these haggards had nothing to say to defend themselves but tried to label me as a ‘troublemaker’. 

The Emirati guy, the authority there asked me if I wanted to continue working at that place, and if so, he could insist them to remove the unfair suspension.

I thought long and hard and refused because I knew for sure that I deserve better than this.

The meeting ended with the mediator suggesting I take this to the court in order to get rid of all the money charges they are asking me to pay and for punishing them for unfair suspension.

Now, this is something you all need to understand, please, it is my humble request.

Yes, we know there is law. Yes, we know there is police. Yet, this costs money. Hiring a lawyer, fighting your case costs money.

At that juncture, I was totally spent, both financially and emotionally. Plus my visa was running out and since the company was not going to extend the validity, I would have to pay heavily for both the visa and staying in Dubai’s super expensive hotels each day.

I was devastated and confused. I kept receiving supportive calls from some genuine colleagues who said that as unhappy as they were about all of this, they were bound to put up with whatever stupid rules these people make because they were under debt. They had taken lots of money in advance from their employers for their rental contracts and quitting would mean paying all that money at once. They had kids to support and hence they keep looking for better places of work until they can leave this hell hole forever- this last one was said by the HR lady herself.

While all this was going on, I had an idea. I knew there was this one millennial colleague who was the spy of those men in power. They literally paid her extra to keep tabs on all other employees and she was labeled as the Big Boss Eye in that hotel where we stayed.

She called me to fake her support and curious to know what my next action would be.

I used my brain cleverly. I said I was going to take the entire university to the courts and get them all shut down for what they did. And since I was making it formal, I would also mention how they have unpaid staff, the extra hours for no extra pay and all the sexual harassment going on.

Of course, I didn’t have the money or time to hire a lawyer but getting this thought in their mind that I was going to shut them all down, worked!

The very next morning I received an email from the HR lady saying that the university decided to let go of the money for the one-month accommodation, let me keep the 1-month salary and the money for travel tickets.

I had somehow won. They had to back down and let me go; and to some, this may seem like a victory but was it?

To take that job in Dubai, I had uprooted my entire existence in the UK.

When I returned back that winter, I had not even a spoon of my own in the country. I was homeless, jobless and broke in a country where I had no family or extended family.

Thankfully my UK visa had plenty of time on it otherwise my life would be over because I didn’t want to depend on my father for money or home.

I initially spent some days on a friends couch and gradually built my life from there. Just a month on and ‘Nirbhaya’ happened in Delhi.

The trauma from that intimidation and humiliation had not left me yet and I began watching BBC narrating the harrowing details of the rape and other oppression women were facing.

My boiling point was way more than my limit and I found a way to channelize my anger- I started reading and writing about violence against women. My first book was published months after that.

I have shared my traumatic harassment in the workplace experience on my blog and on several other platforms with the sole intention of showing how power dynamics in the workplace keep women silent. And when they do speak, they must be ready to forgo their job/career most of the time. Also to remember is the role of wealth and the ability to afford a qualified lawyer who can fight for you. Otherwise, these men in power have such resources on their side, exclusive high profile lawyers who fight for them; your chances of victory become slim.

And keep in mind that if they win, then they get to file a case against you and ask for a hefty compensation and if you can’t pay, you go to prison or sell off every drop of blood in your body.

So, the next time you yell at a woman “just go and report”, remember my story.


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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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