The word “harassment” originated from the Old French term “harer,” which means “to set a dog on” or “to attack.” The word evolved over time and found its way into Middle French as “harasser,” meaning “to tire out” or “to exhaust.” The modern English usage of “harassment” emerged in the 17th century, primarily with the sense of persistently annoying or tormenting someone. At the surface level, harassment may appear as one person causing physical, mental, or emotional stress to another; however, the intent to harass is deeply rooted.
Without stepping into the realm of psychology, it would be worthwhile to explore the dingy alleys of harassment to discover the flicker of light at the end of this sinister tunnel. One may perceive that in the grand tapestry of corporate life, where watercooler conversations flow like the mighty rivers of cubicles and the air is thick with the scent of microwaved leftovers, harassment breeds. However, in the wondrous world of academia, one may discover a place where the pursuit of knowledge dances cheek to cheek with the fine art of workplace harassment.
Very often, in the hallowed halls of higher learning, the air may be thick with intellectual superiority and the subtle aroma of passive-aggressiveness. The academic elites who hail from the chosen realms of premier institutes tend to look down upon their fellow brethren of the different academic quills. Both in the corporate and academic forests lurk several species of harassment, though this term has been equated only with the epithet ‘sexual’. Let us not forget that at the workplace, bullying at different levels by different people is more rampant than sexual harassment and has nothing to do with gender. There is nothing sexual about a male boss reprimanding a male subordinate during a meeting, yet such a behaviour comes under the purview of harassment.
Discrimination based on gender, caste, creed, community, designation, disability, age, or sexual orientation is a form of harassment. Abuse of power within organizational hierarchies, where individuals in higher positions exploit their authority to mistreat subordinates, is also a known devil. Then, there is the new age of technology-enabled cyberbullying, which has ushered in the era of ‘smart’ harassment. Trolling, for example, is a trendy way to harass people. The keyboard warriors, armed with the power of anonymity, craft eloquent messages designed to make you question your life choices. Because who needs the drama of face-to-face confrontation when you can hide behind a computer screen?
Harassment, in its essence, is an unwelcome and persistent behaviour intended to cause distress, fear, or discomfort. It is a subtle and insidious force that can manifest in myriad forms, creating a toxic environment that corrodes the very fabric of social and professional interactions. The consequences of harassment are profound and far-reaching, leaving scars that may not be visible but are deeply etched into the psyches of the victims. From anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the toll on mental health is staggering. In the workplace, the corrosive effects of harassment can lead to decreased productivity, increased turnover, and a toxic work culture. The fight against harassment is not a solitary endeavour but a communal one that demands active participation from individuals, organizations, and policymakers. Creating safe spaces where victims feel empowered to speak out and seek justice is a crucial first step. This involves fostering a culture of openness, empathy, and accountability within communities and institutions.
It is imperative to remember that the fight against this pervasive issue is ongoing. It requires continuous self-reflection, societal introspection, and a commitment to dismantling the structures that enable harassment to persist. Albert Einstein said, ‘The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” By fostering a collective consciousness that rejects harassment in all its forms, we can pave the way towards a world where individuals can live, work, and interact free from the shadows of fear and intimidation.
By Dr. Srabani Basu, HOD, Dept. of Literature and Languages, SRM University (AP).
Disclaimer: The word ‘colors’ used in the title is a metaphor and has no resemblance to any form of racism.