This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Ungender Legal Advisory. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

5 Things Netflix’s Bombay Begums Got Wrong About Sexual Harassment Investigations

More from Ungender Legal Advisory

TW: Sexual Assault

Written by: Suruchi Kumar

At Ungender, during our weekend ‘Learn’ sessions, we often discuss judgments and what companies did wrong which took them to court. Our motto has always been “comply, so you do not become an example in our session.” One such case study is luckily a piece of fiction but not further from reality.

Bombay Begums, one of Netflix’s latest releases got a lot wrong in its portrayal of sexual harassment investigation proceedings.

This month, Netflix brought us a web drama series about four ‘begums’ whose lives were interconnected through their workplace – The Royal Bank of Bombay (henceforth, Bank). To identify them and their roles for this case study, we will be assigning them aliases as per their position in the series.

The Begums

The characters of this case study are: (1) the CEO of the Bank: trying to prove her worth in every decision to a board full of men; (2) the Presiding Officer: second senior-most woman employee of the Bank and recently promoted Deputy Director of Private Equity and Venture Capital division; (3) the Associate: trying to learn from and work with the top employees of the Bank; and (4) the Witness: a dancer by profession but hustling to start a business of her own and is the first beneficiary of the entrepreneurship scheme for women launched by the Bank.

Life at the Bank is going on as usual; politics of promotions, firing of employees, challenges to decision making, etc. but as the story progresses, we see that the Associate is sexually assaulted by a top employee of the Bank (let’s call him the Harasser) where he forces himself upon her in his car after an office party.

The Incident

The incident is seen by the Witness from her vehicle who confronts the CEO to speak to the Associate. When asked, the Associate at first, denies any such assault. She claims that the incident was consensual. However, as time goes by, she’s unable to put the incident behind her and gathers the courage to file the complaint.

We watched the series and couldn’t stop saying, ‘oh no, that’s not right!’ every other minute, especially in the episodes where the sexual harassment investigation happens. The list was long but we’ve identified five points for the benefit of employers, HR teams, and IC members on what NOT to do while investigating a sexual harassment complaint under the POSH Law.

1. Involvement Of The CEO! [Huge Violation]

From the beginning to the end of the sexual harassment proceedings, the CEO was present and involved. We see her at the time the complaint is being filed. She’s spotted again at the time the Harasser (in this case, the respondent) asks her to “take care of it” as he helped her through a difficult time in the company in the past. We also see another board member asking her “to take care of it” to both of whom she said she will take care of the situation/case.

Sorry, Netflix! She shouldn’t have been present in that room, right from the beginning!

The CEO is the ‘employer’ as per the definition of the PoSH Law. All decisions are implemented in the employer’s name. The fact that the employer has employed the alleged harasser, it is likely that there will always be some connection. In fact, the seniority of the alleged harasser is directly proportional to the connection with the employer. To prevent any such influence or bias, the employer is kept away from such proceedings.

The investigation is sacrosanct and as per law, it is to be conducted only by the presiding officer and other quorum/Internal Committee members. The employer’s job is to implement the final recommendations of the Internal Committee. They’re not supposed to be present in the investigation.

2. Presiding Officer – Bias And Conflict Of Interest

When we’re asked to choose between two persons, we will subconsciously side with and believe the one we know well as opposed to the one we don’t, even if they are in the wrong. However, while being a presiding officer of a sexual harassment complaint this inclination towards the person they know rather than being neutral is the beginning of an unfair proceeding.

The PoSH Law mandates the investigation to be conducted as per principles of natural justice, which encompasses many aspects including a fair and unbiased proceeding.

The High Court of Delhi in U.S. Verma and Ors. v. National Commission for Women and Ors. reported in 163 (2009) DLT 557 had held that “One of the cardinal rules of natural justice is that a person hearing a case or cause should not only be impartial but should have no personal knowledge or interest.”

The Presiding Officer knew the Harasser well. She was his mentee and junior before she got promoted. She was close to him and his family looked up to him for advice and comfort. There is personal interest involved. She will believe him and want him to be acquitted of such charges. This bias and conflict of interest are apparent from her questions to the Associate and the threats made to her to withdraw or suffer the consequences of a falsely filed complaint.

It is essential that to ensure a fair and impartial proceeding, every member who has chosen to be part of the quorum/Internal Committee must declare that they have no personal knowledge or interest in the matter. Any member who cannot declare their fairness must be removed from the quorum.

3. The Office Wildfire – Breach Of Confidentiality

The news about the Associate filing a complaint spread like a gender reveal fire in California. Everyone in the office knew! Board members knew her colleague cum friend cum flatmate knew! There was a serious breach of confidentiality.

Confidentiality is the first cardinal rule of the proceedings and a punishable offense under PoSH Law. As soon as there is a breach of confidentiality, the IC is required to investigate and report to the employer. This is essential to prevent retaliation against parties and to also prevent the office environment from becoming hostile.

While the PoSH Law does not state in so many words, it is best practice to make every member of IC, parties to a complaint, and witnesses sign a ‘non-disclosure agreement’ at the beginning of the proceedings. This will ensure that the persons involved in the complaint are bound by contract to maintain confidentiality.

4. Witness And Their Testimony – Only Supplementary, NOT Crucial!

In the series, the Witness, out of personal reasons, withdraws her testimony. On basis of such withdrawal, the Associate was intimidated by the Presiding Officer that she had no case and should withdraw the complaint as the action could be taken against her for filing a false complaint. This action of the Presiding Officer goes against the principles of such hearings.

The case of a complainant does not rest on the fact that they have been able to bring a witness forward to corroborate. More often than not, such incidents happen behind closed doors or in secluded places. In such cases, the complainant’s testimony is self-sufficient and should be judged by the standard of proof applicable to such proceedings which is ‘preponderance of probabilities.’

The High Court of Delhi recently in its judgment in the case of X v. Union of India and Ors. (LPA 527/2019 decided on 17.12.2020) held that “…It cannot be overlooked that the Internal Complaints Committee is intended as a platform to provide an environment of confidence to the complainant. It is not to doubt the veracity of the complaint or view the complainant with suspicion. It is to believe her and not compel her to name witnesses to seek corroboration, as has happened in the instant case.”

“…The absence of eyewitnesses to the incident cannot detract from the credibility of the complainant as her statement is to be considered independently to determine whether it has a ring of truth or not.”

5. Gaslighting, Threatening, And Intimidating The Complainant

Last but not the least, the Associate at various points was gaslit, threatened, and intimidated. These actions were retaliatory and that of disbelief on the part of the Presiding Officer and other members who interacted with the Associate.

The pattern of questioning  when the Associate is narrating the incident –“Did you try to stop him?”“Did you tell anyone?”“Why were you with him in the car?” were loaded with skepticism and victim shaming. She was asked to reconsider going forward with the complaint at various stages.

Initially, the CEO gaslit the complaint to believe that she was overreacting. Lastly, she was threatened by the Presiding Officer that action will be taken against her for filing a false complaint when the Witness withdrew her testimony.

All this is proof of a hostile work environment, one that the PoSH Law endeavors to eradicate.


There haven’t been many conversations on sexual harassment at work in recent pop culture. It’s great that Bombay Begums addressed the issue and we understand that things need to be a certain way to serve the plot in a drama series.

That said, the POSH Law, its implementation, and compliance are essential in ensuring that workplaces are safer for women. Ungender has been tirelessly working to get employers to comply with the POSH law in both letter and spirit so that when someone like the Associate files a complaint in a ‘real’ workplace, she’s able to do so without any fear and has a chance at a just investigation. To that end, Bombay Begums not only misses its mark but also does more damage than good.

About the author: Suruchi Kumar is a Legal Advisor at Ungender, Advocate at the Supreme Court, and a Labour Laws expert.

Image credit: Trailer – Bombay Begums/YouTube

You must be to comment.

More from Ungender Legal Advisory

Similar Posts

By Subhajit Murmu

By Prabhanu Kumar Das

By Blessy M

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below