By Uma Challa : The Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill 2010 focuses on women’s right to protection against sexual harassment at the workplace. The Bill cites their right to equality, right to life and right to live in dignity enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
The Bill and its architects patently undermine the basic truth that sexual harassment is neither about sex nor gender, that it is about power, and that a woman in power can be every bit as abusive as a man.
Most importantly, the Bill undermines the Indian Constitution and its provisions which state that men and women have the same right to equality, the same right to life and the same right to live in dignity.
The Bill implies that it is alright for men to be subjected to sexual harassment including unwelcome sexually determined behaviour, physical contact, advances, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, sexual demand, request for sexual favours or any other unwelcome conduct of sexual nature whether verbal, textual, physical, graphic or electronic or by any other means.
The Bill requires that Committees for redressing grievances be comprised of persons “committed to the cause of women”, thus, betraying NCW’s never-ending urge to pamper the female AT ANY COST, even if it means innocent men are penalized, the law and justice dispensation system are taken for a ride, and public resources and time are squandered to satisfy the whim of a dishonest, criminal minded, depraved woman. With Committees filled with individuals “committed to the cause of women” and not to the cause of truth, law and justice, is it hard to foretell the fate of males in an institution or the society as a whole?
The Bill contains provisions for “conciliation” and “settlement” between the “aggrieved” woman and the respondent. If “conciliation” happens and “settlement” is arrived at, no further inquiry will be conducted but if “conciliation” fails and “settlement” is not arrived at, then an enquiry will be conducted. Similarly, if the terms and conditions of “conciliation” and “settlement” are not met by the accused man, an enquiry will be conducted.
When sexual harassment at workplace is hyped as a grievous crime which warrants a special stringent law, what is the purpose of the “conciliation” and “settlement” plan? Is it not simply a new means to blackmail a man to heed to the terms and conditions of the so-called “aggrieved” woman? In what way is this law different from dowry and rape laws, which are used as weapons of legal terrorism and extortion?
The provision for monetary compensation to the “aggrieved woman” is quite an incentive to convert harmless non-sexual interactions and consensual sexual interactions into sexual harassment as per the complainant’s convenience or whim and opens up a novel and lucrative money earning mechanism.
The Bill requires that up to one fourth of an employee’s salary, or proceeds from sale of his goods or property should be paid as compensation to the “aggrieved” woman. The liability to pay monetary compensation will be treated like arrears of land revenue, and the accused will be forced to cough up money under the threat of imprisonment and fine. In other words, the punishment for not paying compensation is bigger than the penalty for the alleged offence of sexual harassment (i.e. apology, suspension, termination of job etc.).
The NCW has outdone itself once again by inventing a new concept of “punishment”, and concomitantly, a new business model, with least regard to addressing the offence of sexual harassment or the social need to provide a secure working environment for men and women.
With such egregious provisions, will not the Bill tempt women to make false allegations of harassment to claim monetary compensation or force settlements? Will it not encourage persons to sexually harass someone and pay up to be let off the hook – in essence, the richer the person, the more their unsaid “post-paid harassing privileges” and the easier their escape from punishment?
The Bill goes a step further to encourage women to misuse the provision as it leaves it to the discretion of the concerned organization to take action when a woman files a false complaint or furnishes false evidence.
In addition, the Bill grants immunity to misusers of the provisions by precluding all information including identities of the parties, information related to “conciliation” and “settlement”, enquiry proceedings, findings and decisions or actions from the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The Bill defeats the main purpose of the RTI Act which is to maintain transparency and accountability in the system and disempowers the persons involved by violating their right to know details pertaining to their own case.
While any fair minded person would frown upon the Bill for the reasons stated above, one cannot help being appalled at the audacity and impudence exhibited by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) in making the most sexist and discriminatory remarks as a defence for not making the Bill gender neutral. The Ministry stated –
“The overwhelming nature of sexual harassment is sexual harassment of women on account of their female sex. Harassment of men cannot be put on the same footing character wise or incidence wise. Protection of men is also not the mandate of Ministry of WCD”.
Countries around the world including the US, UK, and all member countries of the European Union have gender neutral sexual harassment prevention laws. Even Pakistan, which passed a similar Bill in January 2010, embraced the principle of gender neutrality. However, the Indian Ministry of WCD is deliberately ignoring the nature and gravity of sexual harassment, espousing the most regressive approach, and revealing its brazenly anti-male and anti-social agenda.
It is also worth perusing the track record of NCW in cases of sexual harassment against women. For instance, 3 years ago, Mrs. Archana Pandey, a middle aged Indian woman, filed a complaint of sexual harassment and attempt to rape on the UNICEF India Chief, Cecilio Adorna, and subsequently approached the NCW for assistance. The seriousness of the allegations notwithstanding, NCW adopted an apathetic and nonchalant approach leaving Mrs. Pandey to her own devices in her fight against a huge International organization. This is just one instance which exemplifies the double standards and moral bankruptcy of the principal architect of the Bill.
It should be noted that through this Bill, which smacks of desperation to pamper unscrupulous women, the NCW and WCD are taking yet another step towards disempowering women. The Bill is not only insulting to self-respecting, honest and hardworking women but it can also discourage employers from employing competent and reasonably qualified women for the fear of this proverbial “Sword of Damocles” hanging over their heads.
Thousands of concerned citizens and several organizations have sent representations requesting the Ministry of WCD to make the Bill gender neutral and to include a strict provision to address misuse. The Union Law Ministry strongly favoured the incorporation of a misuse clause to avoid situations similar to those being faced in domestic violence and dowry harassment cases.
Nevertheless, this Monsoon Session will witness the tabling of another Bill which tramples upon men and demeans women, a Bill which neither cares about preventing sexual harassment nor about providing security at the workplace, a Bill which is yet another weapon of blackmail and extortion, a Bill which promotes gender war.
If the esteemed members of the Parliament throw all caution to the wind and let this Bill pass, the country would have no choice but to brace itself and be ready to face a social Tsunami.