Thursday, 25 November 2010

Protecting Women: Yet another Bill

To ensure safety to all the women in their workplaces, very recently Union cabinet has passed ‘Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at the Work Place Bill 2010’. The term sexual harassment was first defined in the landmark judgment of Vishaka & Others vs. State of Rajasthan & Others in 1997 which for the first time laid laws in relation to sexual harassment in India. After this path breaking judgment, Government took 13 years to bring legislation on the same!
The Bill proposes a definition of sexual harassment which is as laid down by the Supreme Court in Vishaka Case. (AIR 1997 SUPREME COURT 3011)
Definition: For this purpose, sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as:

(a) physical contact and advances;
(b) a demand of request for sexual favours;
(c) sexually - coloured remarks;
(d) showing pornography;
(e) any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non - verbal conduct of sexual nature.

The Bill also provides protection to any woman who enters the workplace as a client, customer, apprentice, and daily wage worker or in ad hoc capacity. Students, research scholars in colleges or university and patients in hospitals have also been covered.
A spokesperson said, “If the bill is enacted, this will contribute to realisation of their right to gender equality, life and liberty and equality in working conditions everywhere. The sense of security at the workplace will improve women’s participation in work, resulting in their economic empowerment and inclusive growth.”
Key features of the bill:-
• Acknowledgment of the stigma and social discomfort which filing a case generates for a victim
• No information on the complainant or the complaint can be made known to the media public “in any manner”
• An employer will be liable to a fine of Rs 50,000 for failure to comply with provisions, which will require all employers to provide a safe working environment for women
• It also recognises the promise or threat to a woman’s employment prospects or creation of hostile work environment as “sexual harassment” at workplace and expressly seeks to prohibit such acts
The features definitely aim at ensure safety to a woman. But the bigger question is how much effective it would be? We know, for last 13 years, Sexual Harassment cases have been enquired/judged/investigated under section 141(The Guidelines) of Constitution of India. While giving verdict on Vishaka Case, Supreme Court has opined unless and until legislation is brought on Sexual Harassment at Workplace by Indian Parliament, this (the guidelines in Visakha Case) would be enforceable as law while dealing such issues. Moreover, irrespective of Public, Private, Quasi Government, Enterprise, Undertaking all the places must constitute a Cell to deal with harassment cases.
Undoubtedly, the Supreme Court directives have been followed everywhere upto establishment of a Cell, but the larger issue remained the same. How many women employees really got the benefit of this?
In this context, I want to share two incidents:-
It was a reputed company. Top Boss was (and is) always for gender equality. Work environment was not that good, but somewhat Ok. But the day a married lady was harassed by her boss and informed the cell, she was forced to resign within some days! The man in question is still very much there and no action was taken!

The other one was even more shocking! Without the girl’s consent there were some activities of ‘touching.’ The man belongs to a top position, whereas the girl is his subordinate. To show his ‘concern’ and ‘care’ for his junior colleague, he touched her! Moreover, she was ‘brainwashed’ by some other top persons of that place for not lodging a complain as it would thrash the reputation of that workplace! She was advised to ‘forget’ that. Yes, she has to compromise and as a result started hating herself!

In many educational institutions, students are bringing harassment against the teachers! The teachers are considered as the pillars of the society, and now they are asking for sexual favour from their girl students! (Calcutta University case is a well known one!). After this kind of incidents, would there be any respect for the whole of the faculty community?

When these incidents took place, Supreme Court Guidelines were very much in place. But that yielded no result. Establishing these cells actually nothing but eyewash. Other than in some of the exceptional cases, actually women employees don’t get any help despite Supreme Court Ruling.
Now another bill is on the fray, it has been brought to make women employees ‘secured’. If it is enacted and actually brings changes in the workplace, then it would be an exceptional legislation. Everyone has seen the ineffectiveness of 498A and Domestic Violence Act. In both the cases, either the laws were misused or fail to yield the results what was thought of.

Long back Capitalism has made women body a ‘product’ which can be bought and sold. Some women for getting some benefit in the workplace are actually using it too. But maximum working percentage does not fall under that. It’s a pity that India has to constitute law only for ‘working women!’ Unless and until social psyche is changing and men are shedding off their chauvinism and habit of thinking themselves superior, this law can’t function smoothly. And the saddest part is ‘India Shining’, ‘India Rising’ without ensuring a safe society for the women! Government, in the context of gender equality and social justice (of a different kind) has brought in this bill. Let’s hope it works in its fullest extent and reach!

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