200 garment workers protest over assault

Nearly 200 women workers of a garment factory in Peenya protested against its general manager and his subordinates who assaulted their 36-year-old co-worker. (DH Photo)

Nearly 200 women workers of a garment factory in Peenya protested against its general manager and his subordinates who assaulted their 36-year-old co-worker. 

Though the Rajagopalnagar police initially refused to register a case, they eventually booked Shashi Kumar Shetty, the GM of Texport Apparels LLP in Peenya 4th Stage, on March 15, after intervention by the Karnataka Garment Workers Union (KOOGU).

Kumar was booked under IPC sections 506 (criminal intimidation), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), and 354 (sexual harassment). 

KOOGU general secretary T S Swamy told DH that the garment worker, Prasitha (name changed), was summoned to the GM’s chamber on the morning of March 12. Prasitha had questioned a newly-appointed supervisor who she did not know. “A security guard escorted her to the chamber, where 10-12 supervisors were already present," Swamy said.

Shetty hurled abuses at her and removed his boot to hit her when she ran outside the cabin for cover. "The men present went after her, assaulted and even tore her clothes," Swamy added. 

Prasitha’s colleagues at the cutting section came to her rescue and sat on a protest asking the management to sack Shetty. "Women workers allege that the male supervisors sexually harass them often," Swamy said. 

"Some supervisors took obscene pictures of the women on their mobile phones. Shetty, while calling women into his chamber, watched porn in their presence," KOOGU president Sebastian Devaraj said. 

Garment worker Nagaratna said women had been posting written complaints in the box placed in the factory. "There've been at least 200 complaints in the suggestion box which haven’t been looked into and they disappear from the boxes," she alleged. 

Karnataka State Women’s Commission chairperson Nagalakshmi Bai, who visited the factory on Monday, ordered the men involved to be suspended for three months. An inquiry has been initiated. 

Texport Overseas LLP manufactures garments such as Nautica and Vans. Apart from the mostly male management staff, its 700-strong workforce is largely made of women. 

Management’s version

Texport’s General Manager-Human Resources M V Sagar clarified that the issue was work-related. The woman refused to take orders from her manager and wanted instructions directly from her immediate supervisor. 

She was summoned to the GM’s chamber where she was counseled to listen to both her seniors. The worker then ran out to gather a mob of women and began protesting. "We've placed Shashi Kumar Shetty under suspension pending inquiry," he said. 

Sagar dubbed the sexual harassment allegation baseless, saying the company staff knew that the GM got abusive only over work-related issues. As for written complaints, he said most of them were anonymous. "We've a sexual harassment committee at the factory that periodically meets," Sagar said.

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