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Lessons We Can Learn From Nirbhaya (Braveheart)

While the nation mourns and comes to terms with the loss of an aspiring medical student to a brutal sexual assault there are many questions left unanswered. What will it take to heal a nation and leaders to confront reality? Will there be a time when women will be treated on par and be safe from crime? We may not have the answers just yet.

However there are lessons leaders and organizations can take away from this case to appreciate human dignity, improve their internal communications and be more sensitive to women staffers.

What made this episode galvanize the masses? Would this incident have got the attention it needed had media not followed the case closely? How can organizations be sensitive to the needs of their stakeholders? Is there a better way to handle communication related to such scenarios?

When one reflects on the timeline of the incident it isn’t surprising that peoples’ anger overflowed. The unprecedented wave of anguish that Nirbhaya (Hindi for Braveheart) received from across the country and outside resulted in knee jerk reactions that had people  unconvinced. People took to the streets and created online petitions to impress upon the government to take drastic measures.

The government and the police tried their best within the limited time and space available by nabbing the culprits, reaching out to people for their opinions for an upcoming change in criminal laws and setting up fast track courts to try such crimes. News that the police had been slow to react and that there were quibbles over ‘control’ of the case also perturbed people.

The brutality of the crime, the courage of the woman to fight back her assaulters and her will to stay alive made this a case like no other. The victim died on December 29 and people from all walks of life paid tribute to the brave woman.

People were miffed by a late acknowledgement of a crisis on hand and casual remarks by leaders only aggravated the situation.  The Prime Minister’s scripted message to the nation and appeal for calm felt weak as a reaction for a crime as heinous as this. Adding more fuel to fire was the #Theek hai comment that got his speech to be an infamous social media viral message. A lack of co-ordination and communication caused more trouble with ministers going public with their opinions and individual state governments announcing their own ways to tackle crimes on women.

Take swift action. Sort out differences based on a shared purpose. Get ahead of the situation and have everyone on the same page before communicating with stakeholders.

The fact that the nation’s capital has an infamous reputation accentuated the fury among the masses and not for the first time did we see an explosion of rage. The trend is alarming and with justice taking a while there are concerns of vigilante justice taking over. At the same time people compared President Obama’s reaction and televised address on the Connecticut school shooting incident.  Quite like the Jasmine revolution we are seeing a tectonic shift in how the youth of the nation can force the hand of authorities in power to bring about change in our social fabric.  Leaders need to sit up and look within their organizations as employees will shape and reaffirm the culture inside. The high handed treatment of protesters furthered diminished the goodwill the government sought to garner and pushed them into a defensive position.

Acknowledge the issue, be sincere and demonstrate that you mean business. Involve stakeholders in the change process. Muzzling peoples’ voices can’t help in building trust.

The personal touches of leaders to send the woman for treatment abroad and to receive the body at the airport didn’t make the situation any better. The decision to move the victim abroad for treatment at such a critical juncture caused more resentment so also the decision to cremate the body hurriedly got people more suspicious of the government’s intentions.  Finally, recommending that the girl’s name be disclosed and have the anti-rape laws be named after her seemed to deflect the attention from more pressing issues. In the nation’s consciousness this incident is top of mind and it doesn’t mean that issues such as corruption, declining ethics or other crimes have been erased from peoples’ memory.

People have long memories. Stick to the core issue. Stay honest with your actions and communicate often on progress and impact.

Many organizations and people were willing to contribute to the victim’s treatment and support her family.  Organizations can do more than arrange for self-defense classes or send an armed escort along with women who take office transport while working late hours.  The need for the hour is a change in attitude and the will to take firm action so that such acts of crime aren’t committed at all.

Focus on systemic changes rather than tactical measures. Gain the confidence of your staffers during the crisis.

Employees expect to be treated with dignity, know that they work for an organization which respects individuals and that the organization cares for their safety. It needs to start with the everyday language used by employees, especially managers while addressing their teams and not in tailored policies aimed at ranking among the best employer awards. Employers need to listen carefully for harassment and gender biases in the conversations their staffers. Phrases such as ‘hello guys’ while addressing an audience consisting of both genders sends a poor message and is proof that the culture within is eroding. Proactively break down stereotyping at the workplace – especially during job interviews the message that ‘women can’t work long hours’ or ‘women can’t add value’ doesn’t help to improve trust among potential employees.

The words we speak and the actions build strong and lasting cultures.

6 thoughts on “Lessons We Can Learn From Nirbhaya (Braveheart)

  1. I think a more proactive approach should be taken by all female staff –

    I will share a small incident which happened last week with me –

    I use bus service for commuting to office and i am the first to board the bus and last one to get dropped from the bus, last week when i was returning back home, on the way there were 3 non staffers (friends of driver) who boarded the bus. I immediately sent an sms to transport and also informed the Gurgaon transport lead. The bus was immediately tracked and driver was given a call and immediately the non staffers got down from the bus.

    I appreciate the quick action taken by transport team, but i was shocked to see other employee’s attitude towards safety in the bus. They were blind to what was happening in the bus. As if just being blind to their safety was not enough, what made me even more angry and upset was when I found few of my bus mates did not like what i did because they thought it was another hassle to confirm to transport about what i reported. It was so shocking and unfortunate to see retaliation towards me from other employees present in the bus!

    So it is not just organization but also employees at large should be proactive and sensitive towards each other. Safety is just not for Female staff only, even males are not safe today….we all know that even the boy was beaten up badly and went through the trauma!

    So my suggestions to all employees irrespective of their gender is do what ever it takes to ensure your safety. Do not become casual about your safety even if it means upsetting your friends, as in a way you are also helping them which they will realize with time!

    – Be more vigilant and proactive about safety of their own and others as well.
    – Always keep emergency numbers, Women Helpline numbers handy and
    report any suspicious activity proactively and immediately
    – Female staff should ask for marshals and do not board the cab unless you
    are sure you get an escort in late evenings.
    – Be sensitive and care about others safety too.
    – Report even small incidents to transport teams, it will help them help you!

    1. U did the right thing, lady. Give yourself a pat on the back & d others a cold shoulder n move on! There will always be 50% critics, 30% neutrals, 15% passive recognizers & 5% appreciators whenever u do anything good!

  2. Nice piece. However, I feel that the efforts taken by companies following this incident was simply a knee jerk reaction. Consider this example- Many companies in the last 1 month have issued a blanket guidance asking women employees to leave office by 6:30 pm. Yet they do not attempt to sensitise male staffers or clients about this. I recently heard a group of men working on a project grumbling about how women leaving early meant the men had to put in extra hours on the project. While a lot of project work is discretionary and a matter of discussion between the project team and the client, the fact that men resented these “priviledges” given to women, defeats the purpose of having such safety measures. One lady in fact had to wait for a week before she was allowed to work from home on such projects. This is a classic case of a tactical move sans any deeper strategy or genuine intent to change.

    Indian organisations still see their employees as “labour” and not “resource”. Their approach to employee related matters is more the factory approach to labour unions. Unless this approach is changed from the grass roots, any changes made in policy pertaining to employee health and safety will remain cosmetic.

  3. A proper redressal mechanism for grievances of sexual nature is the need of the hour in organizations. Most of the times sexual grievances are snubbed with in the company as these offenders are highly influential. I guess every employee should report even the minutest case of sexual offense to the authorities as it is always better to nip the criminal in the bud itself.

  4. I feel we keep getting shaken from time to time but we refuse to stir from our deep-set slumber! ‘Shaken, but not yet stirred’ seems to be our permanent status.
    Your article is very apt in every point. Everything from the individual to the country has to change. Each person – you, me, the policemen, the politicians – every single person needs to do our best in everything, rather than short-changing at the first chance we get. We all do it, all the time. This has to change.
    For this change to take place there are a lot of things that need to fall into place. Our education system needs to change- we need to teach our children to think and understand right and wrong. Our attitude towards gender and sex need to change. Our ‘money above everything else’ system needs to change.
    I can take a vow today to change myself. Will you, who is reading this blog and this comment, do that much? That will be enough.

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