The State level consultation for the effective implementation of the sexual harassment laws was held on 15th September, 2013. The consultation started with the welcoming and introduction of the chief guests present in the event namely; Ms. Indira Jena, Ms. Abha Singhal Joshi, Ms. Neelu, Ms. Kirti as well as the participants. Thereafter, the guests lighted the lamps (Deep Prajwalan) marking the inauguration of the consultation.
Introduction to the consultation
After the inauguration of the consultation, Ms. Neelu, the Chairperson of Mahila Jagaran Kendra gave a brief introduction to the consultation and its objectives. She narrated that since the establishment of Mahila Jagaran Kendra it has been working on the women centric issues. It had worked on violence against women in different geographical regions of Bihar. Further, she said that since in the recent past certain cases related to sexual harassment of women at workplace have come in light, the organization took the responsibility to take this issue in the public sphere and designed a blue print for taking forward this issue. She acknowledged the guidance and support of Ms. Indira Jena, the Co-founder of NIRNAYA for 20 long years as well as for the current assignment. Moreover, she thanked Ms. Abha Singhal Joshi, the Supreme Court Advocate and Legal Advisor to Aap ki kachhari for being a continuous and constant support in the legal areas.
Release of the report
A report on “the sexual harassment of women at workplaces in Patna” was released by the Hon’ble Guests; Ms. Indira Jena, Ms. Abha Singhal Joshi, Ms. Neelu, Ms. Kirti in the public domain.
Presentation to the report
A presentation was made by Ms. Puja about the major findings of the report. While presenting the report she mentioned the objectives of the survey and study as “reporting the actual working conditions of women at their workplace, the number of the women affected by sexual harassment at workplace in various sectors, the level of awareness among the respondents (male and female) about the sexual harassment laws, finding out the rate of compliance of the laws, the number of women benefitted by the sexual harassment laws.” While mentioning the key findings she revealed some eye opening facts such as “only 26 % women occupy the managerial position.55 % women felt discomfort and fear while talking on the issue of their sexual harassment or colleagues. 60 % women are sexually harassed at the workplace. 35 % accepted they are harassed, while 25 % said their women colleagues were harassed. Only 8 % victims filed complaint against sexual harassment in different forums such as; police stations, Mahila Thana, women helpline, complaint committee etc. 47 % sexual harassment cases occurred in unorganized sector, 28 % in private sector and 25 % in the government sector. 71 % of the harassed women were literate, while, 29 % were illiterate. 48 % women said that their employers take steps for their safety. Only 25 % respondents said that the sexual harassment complaint committee has been formed in their organization/institution. 97 % respondents said that their office does not display any folder or poster on awareness about laws relating to sexual harassment. 17 % total respondents and 20 % women respondents hardly were aware of the Vishakha Guidelines. 78 % respondents felt that sexual harassment has increased in the recent years.” Further, she also stated the recommendations provided in the report to the government stating that “the definition provided in the act must be specific, submission of quarterly report by complaint committee, awareness campaign by government for propagating the provisions of the related laws, training of the police officials, police personnel, magistrates on legal aspects, establishment of regulatory body to review the implementation of the sexual harassment laws.”
Legal training provided by Ms. Abha Singhal Joshi
Ms. Abha Singhal Joshi, the Supreme Court Adocate and the legal advisor to “Aap ki Kachhari” provided a valuable and informative speech on the legal aspects of the sexual harassment of women at workplaces. She said that we must keep three things in mind when we talk about the sexual harassment, those are; the Constitution of India, the legislations and the judgments. She further informed the participants that we have right to equality, right against discriminatory treatment based on gender, right to live with dignity, right to freedom of speech and expression and right to practice any business, trade, profession according to our choice. Moreover, the women also have certain special rights, such as, related to marriage, property, wages on workplaces etc.
She further added that despite several provisions for the protection of the right of women they have to face discriminatory treatment on the basis of gender, such as; not getting adequate and proper work/job, wages, facilities and sexual harassment. While taking on the issue of sexual harassment she discussed the Bhawri Devi Case or the Vishakha Vs. state of Rajasthan case (where a social worker was brutally gang raped by the men) and said that in this very case for the first time a guidelines was laid down by the Supreme Court in the year 1997. Thereafter, in the year 2013 a specific legislation was enacted by the legislature named the sexual harassment of women at workplace (prevention, prohibition and redressal) Act, 2013, she said. She informed the participants about the definition of sexual harassment provided under section 2 of the act stating that “any sexually physical contacts or advances, sexually implicit behavior, sexually coloured remarks on physical appearances and signs or symbols, showing pornography, promise of providing gains, threatening the women of bad consequences on her career in present or in future, are covered under the definition of sexual harassment”.
She also explained that a women who alleges that she has suffered sexual harassment at her workplace whether an employee or not will be covered under the definition of sexual harassment. Any government or private institution or organization, or any house hold will be included within the purview of workplace under the act, she added.
While discussing the prevention and complaint procedures, the duties of the employer she said that every employer is under duty to set up a complaint committee at their workplaces. Moreover, a local complaint committee has to be formed by the District Magistrate in every block of each district. Further, she said that the complaint shall be filed by the victim in written to the complaint committee. Thereafter, if the women would agree for conciliation then the matter would go for conciliation otherwise an inquiry will be conducted on the complaint received. Victim can go for 3 months leave after the complaint and can ask for transfer of the perpetrator or herself.
Further discussing about the false complaint provision provided under section 14 of the act she said that “in most of the cases where such complaints are lodged, the women are further victimized by stating that the women filed a false complaint.”
Speech by Ms. Indira Jena
Ms. Indira Jena, the Co-founder of NIRNAYA and the feminist activist gave an excellent speech which was so effective that there was a pin drop silence in the entire hall. She started her narration with some of her personal experiences in life relating to the physical, mental, psychological and sexual hazards faced by women starting from home to the workplaces and the world outside. She shared one of such incidence of sexual harassment with a nurse working in her uncle’s hospital to which she was the witness, when she protested such uncivilized behavior she was also harassed by the perpetrator. During that time she was a child and was scared of the whole incident and suffered mental agony. When she discussed this incident with her parents even they were not able to take any action because of the family web. Moreover, also shared that when she was working with a bank she had to face odd behaviours by her male seniors which made her feel uncomfortable but she was not able to protest. After a very long period of time she was able to raise voice against her perpetrators. Further, she also said that when the women organizations including her was protesting against the sexual harassment of women at workplace, then also they had to faced several hazards and the protest was not very successful.
Citing these incidences she said that these incidents occur with most of the women and girls but they suffer in silence. She emphasized that the women must show a stringent attitude against these incidents and they must send a strong message by protesting against atrocities that enough is enough and any kind of violence against women cannot be tolerated any longer. Further, she said that Mahila Jagaran Kendra has been working on the issues of sexual harassment since long period of time excellently and that they will further carry on their tasks with honesty, passion and zeal.
Speech by Ms. Kirti
Ms. Kirti first of all acknowledged the valuable legal info provided by Ms. Abha Singhal Joshi. She also appreciated the guidance provided by Ms. Indira for further taking forward this issue. While delivering her speech she said that women have not been treated at par with the men in our society from the very beginning and our laws made for the protection of women are evident to this fact. The women in our society have always been subject to atrocities and discriminatory treatment. Therefore, first of all we need to develop such environment where there could be a balance between men and women. She further emphasized that together we all need to address this issue as it is a social concern. Moreover, giving a boost to the participants present in the consultation she said that the women who have faced sexual harassment or rape or have suffered from loss of dignity must not get disheartened and must come forward to deal with the odds as, so that they may serve as a example for them.
Presentation of the case by the victims
Two cases of sexually harassed women were narrated by the victims themselves who have struggled and are still struggling for justice. They have been an ideal for the other women who have or had suffered from sexual harassment at workplace.
While narrating her case, the Associate Professor of IGIMS said that she was being harassed by the Director of the IGIMS, Mr. Arun Kumar continuously since her appointment in 2011. While narrating the whole incidence she said that she was physically, mentally and sexually harassed by the Director. She was also assaulted by the aides of the Director in the IGIMS campus itself. The Director has lodged several false cases against her in order to prevent her from seeking justice. She also said that she is in a very bad financial condition still she is fighting for justice.
In the open session many questions of legal aspects were raised by the participants:
Question: If a case is pending in the High Court, then in that case can the parties approach the Supreme Court?
Answer provided by Abha Sinhgal Joshi: The parties can approach the Supreme Court under special leave petition under Article 136 and Art. 32 of the Constitution of India.
Question: If a person stares women for more than 15 minutes then will it come under the purview of sexual harassment?
Answer provided by Abha Sinhgal Joshi: It depends on the interpretation of the court.
Question: How could the law students be helpful to this campaign against sexual harassment of women at workplace?
Answer provided by Abha Sinhgal Joshi: By associating with the NGOs and providing legal aid to the needy.
The panel of guests agreed to the recommendations provided in the report. They did not make any further recommendations.
Vote of thanks
Ms. Shaila Parween, the Programme Officer of Mahila Jagaran Kendra gave the vote of thanks to the guest, participants, staffs and the volunteers present in the event.