Yangchen C Rinzin and Tashi Dema

Even as Thimphu police are investigating an alleged sexual harassment case in the Royal Tutorial Project, Kuensel learned that a female staff member at Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) has also filed a complaint to the management against a director for behaving inappropriately and harassing her.

Kuensel learned that the incident occurred around 2am on September 15, when the alleged victim and another female colleague were attending to their night shift duties at the company’s customer care office.

While the two night shift staff members reportedly took turns to attend to customer calls and to sleep, a director walked into the office in a drunken state.

The director, after seeing one of the staff sleeping, reportedly shouted that they would be terminated from their positions.  

He shouted at the one who was awake and told her to go into the toilet, a source told Kuensel. But she was uncomfortable with leaving her sleeping colleague alone.

The director kept warning her that he would terminate her for not obeying him. She saw her colleague waking up, and then went outside, but not into the toilet.

At the time, she was more worried about losing her job than anything he did, a source told Kuensel. 

The other female staff member who had been sleeping complained to the management that when she opened her eyes, she saw the director standing over her and looking down. 

When she woke up and saw the director, he allegedly held her from behind.

She did not know how to react or what was happening until she felt his hands on her, a source said. She had heard many such stories, but never believed them until that night.

It was alleged that when the staff member pleaded with him and told him she needed to go to the toilet, he ordered her to shut her mouth. When she kept insisting, he asked if she would come back.

Kuensel learned the victim then immediately called their supervisor from the toilet and narrated the incident. The supervisor, however, told her they would deal with the case in the morning.She was literally crying because she was so scared and she didn’t know what to do. 

He reportedly kept banging the toilet door and she had to lie to him that she hadn’t finished relieving herself. 

The woman stayed in the toilet for about an hour, and came out only after the director left. 

The staff went with the supervisor and complained about the matter to the management.

Kuensel learned that following the victim’s complaint, two more female employees have come forward to share similar experiences with the same director.

BPC’s chief executive officer said that he was not aware of the incident. “Perhaps I was not informed because of the holidays. If the incident is true, the report will reach me by Monday.”

He said they have rules to deal with such cases. “There is a provision that mandates that such cases will be dealt with by a committee led by a female staff member.”

Sources from BPC confirmed this is not the first time a sexual harassment case has surfaced within the corporation.

A source, on the condition of anonymity, said women in BPC do not lodge formal complaints to police because the corporation’s rules mandate complainants to file cases with the management for resolution first. “Many women, both supporting staff and officers, have reported the director for sexually harassing them, but they have not reported the matter to police, fearing it is against the company’s code of conduct.”

Kuensel learned that some women felt they could not lodge complaints out of fear of the director further harassing them.

Sources said there is no proper grievance redressal system in place in many offices in Bhutan for when employees are sexually harassed.

“There should be a proper standard operating procedure for the whole nation,” a senior manager in one of the corporations said. “Leaving it up to individual offices to review complaints does not address the issues at hand. Most management figures try to cover up these cases.”

The official said there have been more than 200 sexual harassment cases in her office, but the management has not taken serious action. “This is a penal offence, but our management just covers it up.”

A law enforcer said many women are scared to report sexual harassment, as it is taken lightly in the country. 

The official explained sexual harassment is graded a penal offence. “Section 205 states a defendant shall be guilty of sexual harassment if the defendant makes unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal abuse of a sexual nature.”

The offence is graded a petty misdemeanour and of a criminal nature.

The official explained Article 9 (17) and (18) of the Constitution mandates the state to take appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination and exploitation against women including trafficking, prostitution, abuse, violence, harassment, and intimidation at work in both public and private spheres.

“The Domestic Violence Prevention Act 2013 and the Child Care and Protection Act 2011 include commitment and appropriate redressal and protection measures to eliminate sexual harassment,” the official said.

It was learned that Section 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20 of Labour and Employment Act 2007 and the ministry’s Regulations of Working Conditions 2012 require all employers at companies registered under the Companies Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2000 and enterprises with a capital input in excess of Nu 1 million to have a Sexual Harassment Policy and a written complaints procedure for victims to lodge a formal complaint against the harasser.

However, sources said most of the legal provisions on sexual harassment have remained on paper. “It is rampant in almost all institutions and organisations, and women who try to raise the issue are mocked,” said a senior official in an organisation.

According to a media release the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) issued in 2018, sexual harassment at the workplace is referred to as “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.”

The commission stated it is the most typical form of harassment. “There are numerous assumptions about sexual harassment, such as it being a rare occurrence; that it is trivial and a harmless flirtation; that if not intentionally done, it is not sexual harassment; and that victims are all females.”

The commission then stated that sexual harassment is rampant and at least 40 to 60 percent of working women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace at least once in their lifetime. “Victims of sexual harassment suffer from psychological symptoms and often are forced to resign from work. The issue is that even if it is unintentional, it is unwelcome. Furthermore, males can also be subject to sexual harassment.”

Meanwhile, Kuensel learned that Thimphu police have registered the sexual harassment case against the senior official in the Royal Tutorial Project, and are investigating the case.