Strike one Harassment Strike two Humiliation Strike three Helplessness

It hasn’t been long since the Delhi gangrape and the country’s collective mourning.

Bangalore: It hasn’t been long since the Delhi gangrape and the country’s collective mourning for the young girl who died in a most horrific manner as a result of it, but rather than abating, sexual assaults on women are only on the rise with high profile figures — a retired judge and a journalist crusader — too seeming to have learnt nothing from it.

Women today are are unsafe not only in posh resorts and deserted university campuses going by recent experience, but also in their workplaces, if the Tarun Tejpal and Justice A.K. Ganguly cases are anything to go by.

Even so not many companies have Internal Complaints Committees which women can approach if sexually harassed. Sadly, the situation is no better even 16 years after the Supreme Court issued the Vishaka guidelines to make workplaces safer for women.

The author of Vishaka, Justice J.S. Verma, himself acknowledged the failure of the guidelines in securing women from sexual harassment in their places of employment when he commented in a report he submitted this year: “Regrettably, notwithstanding the directions of the Supreme Court in Vishaka, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that conditions of working women have distinctly improved in the recent past.”

This is hardly surprising considering that very few employers and employees are even aware of the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in the case of Vishaka versus the State of Rajasthan and others in 1997.

Some believe the guidelines have not made much of a difference as they are just that: only guidelines and not law. And even if an Internal Complaints Committee is set up, they wonder if it can be really effective.

For instance if the accused is the seniormost in authority in an organisation like in the case of Tehelka, can the internal committee really be expected to do justice to the complainant, they ask.

Some are also unhappy that the Vishaka guidelines primarily see sexual harassment at the workplace as an internal matter of the organisation and leave it to the employee to decide whether or not she should file a criminal complaint against her tormentor.

While the situation clearly calls for a more stringent law on harassment of women at their places of employment, the Union government doesn’t seem to think so as it has excluded some very important recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee report while drawing up The Sexual Harass­ment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

Considering the government’s lack of understanding of the issue, women activists wonder what it will take for it to do right by women who are now emerging in bigger numbers from the four walls of their homes to make their way independently in the world.

Next: ‘External employment tribunal is a must’

‘External employment tribunal is a must’

The Justice J.S. Verma Committee Report submitted in January this year has made several important suggestions that could help women fight sexual harassment at the workplace a lot more effectively than they are able to today. Import­antly, the committee suggested setting up of an external employment tribunal with the powers of a civil court to investigate complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace, instead of an internal complaints committee.

Interestingly, it made no provision for conciliation between the complainant and the accused and for penalising the woman if her complaint is found to be false. But although the recommendations came at a time when the government of India was in the process of drafting rules for a Bill to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment at the workplace, they were conveniently ignored and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Preven­tion, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 was passed in February without making any reference to them. The government failed to recognise the merit of establishing an employment tribunal although Justice Verma explained it in detail.

“It is our apprehension that the in-house dealing of all grievances would dissuade women from filing complaints and may promote a culture of suppression of legitimate complaints in order to avoid the concerned establishment falling into disrepute,” he said in his report, suggesting that the external employment tribunal should have two retired judges (one of whom must be a woman), two eminent sociologists and a social activist with sufficient experience in the field of gender-based discrimination.

His report also recommended against the provision made for conciliation in the Sexual Harassment Bill, 2012, pointing out that “in matters of harassment and humiliation of women an attempt to compromise the same is indeed yet another way in which the dignity of women is undermined and the attempts to get justice cannot be muscled by attempts at conciliation.”

The report called the section of the Bill penalising a woman for filing a false complaint as a “completely abusive provision intended to nullify the objective of the law,” and pointed out that it was possible for the employer to manipulate the evidence to falsify the allegations made.

The Verma committee also suggested the tribunal should determine the quantum of compensation to be paid by the company to the woman in question and that oral submission of complaints be accepted and transcribed into the written form in the manner prescribed by the tribunal. It did not think there should be a fixed time period for filing a complaint either.

While the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Preven­tion, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 ignores much of this, activists point out that it is not too late even now. Considering that the Act has not yet been notified, there’s still time to amend it, they insist, hoping the government will do the needful considering the recent high profile cases of sexual harassment that have come to light.

( Source : dc )
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