Gender discrimination surfaces in Assam’s RRI

[ Nellie N Manpoong ]

GUWAHATI, 13 Mar: A case of racial and gender discrimination against a research officer from Arunachal has emerged from the Regional Research Institute (Homoeopathy) in Guwahati, Assam.

A complaint has been placed with the Assam Police and the Assam State Commission for Women (ASCW) against Research Officer Dr Ranjit Sonny for allegedly discriminating against his fellow colleague and Research Officer Dr Liyi Karso on the basis of her tribal status and gender.

Dr Karso is the first MD in homoeopathy from Arunachal and the first RO in the Central Council for Research in Homoeopathy (CCRH) from the state.

As per the FIR, Dr Sonny has been accused of misusing his power as the in-charge of the RRI (Homoeopathy) and creating a hostile workplace environment for Dr Karso.

Dr Sonny has been accused of spreading oppressive ideology among the staff that “a tribal woman cannot run office.”

He has also deprived Dr Karso of office information and project opportunities and “sabotaged” her project while she was on maternity leave, she said. This has been corroborated with a written testimony from a staff member.

As per the FIR, Dr Sonny also allegedly deducted Dr Karso’s salary without any prior official intimation.

While the Assam government had issued Covid-19 guidelines during the peak of the pandemic that female employees with children below five years of age should work from home on all days, it is alleged that when Dr Karso resumed work after her maternity leave in March 2020 and during the peak of Covid-19 in April-May 2020, she was not allowed to work from home even on alternate days.

She was allowed three days of work from home per week after she pleaded with the CCRH in New Delhi.

Another tribal staff was also reportedly intimidated by other staffers for talking to Dr Karso.

As the RRI does not have an internal complaints committee (ICC), Dr Karso placed the complaint about the discriminatory behaviour with the CCRH.

While the CCRH has not taken any disciplinary action, in its report, the CCRH states: “There is not a healthy workable atmosphere in the institute. Administrative control is autocratic in nature and lacking in cordial relation.”

The initial complaint by Dr Karso has also encouraged three other women in the RRI to place written complaints against Dr Sonny, while a few others have made verbal complaints.

When contacted, Dr Sonny did not wish to comment on the allegations.

Assam’s Assistant Commissioner of Police Jayanta Baruah informed that the police have taken statements from all parties concerned as well as witnesses.

“It has been registered as a case of gender discrimination. Prima facie, we do not have physical evidence but we are going through documentary evidence and investigation is on,” he said.

In its previous hearings, the ASCW had laid out instructions to form an ICC, which was reportedly not done as per protocol and a tentative date has been scheduled for the next hearing on 17 April.