(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 09, 2012
AIDWA Suggests Amendments to
Sexual Harassment Bill
The following is the press statement issued by AIDWA on September 4
AIDWA welcomes the long overdue passage of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2010, in the Lok Sabha, on September 3, 2012. It has taken 15 years for the formulation of a legislation to define sexual harassment at the workplace and make legal provisions for its prevention and for expediting disciplinary action against offenders, as laid down by the Supreme Court under the Vishakha guidelines (1997).
AIDWA notes that the Bill is comprehensive in its definition of sexual harassment, as well as in other areas it seeks to cover. The definition of sexual harassment includes any unwelcome act or behaviour, demand for sexual favours, making sexually coloured remarks, or showing pornography, etc, and any other physical, verbal, or non verbal conduct of a sexual nature. The Bill has also made it mandatory for all offices, hospitals, institutions and other workplaces to have an internal complaints redressal mechanism. Non-compliance with the provisions of the law has been made punishable with a fine of up to Rs 50,000. Repeated violations may lead to higher penalties and cancellation of license or registration to do business.
However, while the demand for inclusion of domestic workers has been accepted, there are some glaring lacunae and gaps in the Bill that are still to be addressed. The Bill leaves out women agricultural workers, who form a large segment of the unorganised labour force, including under the MGNREGA. Women working in fisheries, forests, or in construction work sites, roads, stations, trains, etc, must be brought under its purview. The women employees in the armed forces must also be covered under the Bill. In the unorganised sector, the restriction in the number of workers to less than ten should be done away with. The Bill needs to be amended so as to rectify these weaknesses and loopholes.
Moreover, AIDWA strongly objects to the inclusion of the clause which allows for penal action against the complainant in the Bill, which will defeat its very purpose. We had repeatedly asked for the removal of the “complaint with malicious intent” clause. This not only goes against the Vishakha guidelines, which explicitly state that the complainant should not be victimised in any way, but also completely undermines the victim’s ability to file complaints of sexual harassment. The standing committee had also noted this aspect. Women victims of sexual harassment at the workplace are in an extremely vulnerable position and the AIDWA experience has been that in most such cases, allegations of falsehood and malicious intent are invariably leveled against them. Hence, we demand removal of this clause from the Bill.
AIDWA also demands that the enquiry must be conducted in a more time bound manner. The recommendations of the local committee should be acted upon within 30 days of submission of their report. The Bill seeks to give preferred treatment to the accused, by protecting his identity. While the identity of the complainant need not be known, there is no reason to extend such protection to the accused, otherwise these incidents would not even come to light.
AIDWA demands passage of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, after incorporating these important amendments, so that women victims of sexual harassment at the workplace can be assured of justice and legal protection.