It was a strange order—from the office of the engineer-in-chief (EIC) in Odisha on January 27. “All lady officials or staff are hereby requested to leave office by 5.30 pm positively on all working days. They are also requested to work sincerely during office hours and ensure that there shall not be any pending work on their seats,” it read and left the field open for questions and speculation. “Why are only the lady staff in only the EIC office considered unsafe, especially since there are only a handful of them in the office?” “What about women staff in other government offices?” “Has anyone complained of sexual harassment?” “Are the male staff up to something where the presence of women is unwelcome?”
The answer flows in dribs and drabs, not convincing. Superintending engineer (P&D) Goutam Kumar Pal said it’s a move to ensure safety of the women staff. But the remarks left even the women staff unconvinced. “It would put additional pressure on us because it doesn’t exempt us from our regular workload. So, we have to work harder to complete the day’s work. If we can’t finish the day’s task before 5.30, work will spill onto the next day, which, in turn, would increase the following day’s workload,” a woman employee reasoned.