June 27, 2020
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Help At Hand

A draft bill for redress is in the offing, but needs more teeth

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Help At Hand

In 1997, the Supreme Court issued guidelines to all institutions and establishments to set up internal complaints committees to deal with cases of sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The committees have occasionally acted as a deterrent, but very few complaints have ended in disciplinary action, never mind dismissal. Sources in the National Commission for Women—that also entertains such complaints, even though its powers are very limited—say such cases are difficult to prove. There is an inbuilt bias in favour of the perpetrator rather than the victim; worse, witnesses are hard to come by as very few employees are willing to depose against a senior, for fear of a reprisal.

Revealingly, of the 136 cases of sexual harassment that came to the NCW in 2007-08, and the 164 in 2008-09, approximately 60 per cent related to the government sector.

Currently, a draft bill aimed at preventing and redressing sexual harassment is with the Union ministry of human resource development. NCW sources say a major lacuna in the draft is that it has no mechanism for witness protection. Of equal concern is the fact that the law ministry is keen to add a clause that action should be taken against a complainant whose case is not proved. “Such a clause would effectively kill the bill as such cases are so hard to prove,” said the NCW sources. The commission is doing its best to resist the inclusion of such a clause. The bill has been pending for five years, but the Rathore case may now push the government to finalise the draft before the next session of Parliament.

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