Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes
Women’s emancipation and safety is most important for society as well as government. DoPT that acts as the government’s human resource manager has issued circular to all concerned departments that any case of sexual harassment of women whether in workplace or anywhere, the investigation should be completed within 30 days of complaint lodged and report has to be submitted within 90 days.
It has also asked the departments to ensure that well-being of women whose complaints are proven should not be victimised and subjected to political vendetta.
It is a good move and is part of promoting gender equality. Unless women are safe and secure and their dignity is assured, the society can never be really called equal. Considering the reality that women have come out in large number to take care of household chores and outdoor jobs, they have the right to be safe anywhere.
Since 1997 since SC came with Vishakha guidelines have become part of public discourse.
SC categorically stated in a judgement about eliminating all forms of discrimination and how to ensure safety and security of women which is foremost. It came out with certain guidelines which went on stipulate about sexual harassment at workplace in the country and how to deal with it.
Some provisions are
The employer (and/or other responsible people in a workplace) was duty-bound to prevent or deter sexual harassment.
It should set up processes to resolve, settle or prosecute in such cases.
It should support employees even when a third party was responsible for harassment.
It should sensitise female employees to their rights and the guidelines.
Sexual harassment includes ‘‘such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour, whether directly or by implication, such as: physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, and any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.’
Set up an internal committee
As per SC, there should be an internal compliant grievance committee when workplace is of more than 10 employees.
It also provided for a special counsellor or other support service, assuring confidentiality.
This committee would be headed by a woman, have women as at least half its members.
To pre-empt any undue pressure from senior levels, the committee can include a third party such as an NGO familiar with the challenges of sexual harassment.
The law is strong but all these cases are investigated by police which is usually delayed. The onus is also on respective state governments to see that such cases are given priority in investigation. Over the years it has been seen that police takes its own time to investigate and it lingers on for long.
Thus, with the establishment of an internal committee within the organisation, primary investigation will be done by it. The police will come in much later. By and large, it is better that such matters are sorted out within the organisation.
Attitudinal change required
The SC is trying to sensitise what it is to work in a workplace where there are women and how men and women should conduct themselves.
However, not major improvement in reduction of cases of complaints of sexual harassment in workplace has been observed. The problems is of mindset. The educated Indians are also involved in such kind of behaviour in top organisations. Thus it needs to be known what kind of education is imparted to children at school level and why families are not able to share good values.
How the boys in the family are raised, how the men should respect the women within the family and private space is important. Socialisation process, education should go towards making a man more sensitive when dealing with women.
Influence should not be roadblock
There has to be sense of fear in the mind of offenders. If it is not there and they can think that they can get away with passing lewd comments, the law will not be successful in its implementation.
Though the law is in place, implementation is worrisome. Serious cases like rape and attempted rape require strict police action and such cases have to be investigated and accused should be punished.
Sometimes, people in very influential position are accused. This creates a sense of alienation, disbelief or misgivings about law and to what extent it would go to.
In India, wherever the accused is influential, they have a much freer hand. Here, the DopT, Ministry of child welfare all of them should see to it, no matter who is accused, that person should be severely dealt with. This would instil gender sensitivity in society.
Suppose a woman who files the complaint, the person starts harassing her more. Such victimisation should not happen. Guidelines says that aggrieved woman has been given further option of sending representation to the secretary or head of organisation in case she feels that she is being victimised because of complaint. It gives women the sense of fearlessness that they can complaint and not be victimised.
Dealing with false complaints
Any complaint which is false will also be dealt with strictly. It is not that women can have a free hand and go about it. The women has to realise that they cannot play the victim card all the time.
In past, an SC judge was charged with sexual harassment by a law intern. SC appointed a committee of judges which found that there were not much merit in the case of complainant. Since the judge concern had delivered few judgement that went against the government of the day, some people tried to frame him. This is one instance. There have been rulings in the lower court also where women who charged somebody of rape failed to establish the fact of the same. Though the persons are released but the reputation, time wasted in jail, money spent will not return.
Thus, the law has to give equal punishment to women who make false charges which is there in provision.
From guidelines to law
In December 2013, Vishakha was superseded by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, which kept the essence of the Guidelines and added more provisions. Some of it are:
Widens the definition of ‘aggrieved woman’ to include all women, irrespective of age and employment status, and it covers clients, customers and domestic workers.
Expands ‘workplace’ beyond traditional offices to include all kinds of organisations across sectors, even non-traditional workplaces (for example those that involve telecommuting) and places visited by employees for work.
Mandates the constitution of the internal complaint committee (ICC) — and states the action to be taken if an ICC is not formed.
Filing of an audit report of the number of complaints and action taken at the end of the year.
Lists the duties of the employer, like organising regular workshops and awareness programmes to educate employees about the Act, and conducting orientation programmes for the members of the ICC.
Connecting the dots:
What are Vishakha guidelines? Evaluate its importance in the growing work culture amongst women in the Indian society.