NEW DELHI: Citing the outpourings from victims of alleged sexual harassment in India's #MeToo movement, the CIC has asked the National Commission for Women to take action against organisations that do not have redressal systems for such complaints.
Women who complain to the NCW, an organisation's internal complaints committee (ICC) or to the head of an organisation should be considered whistleblowers and given protection from harassment by authorities or their superiors, Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said.
Taking note of actor Tanushree Dutta's accusations of sexual harassment, he also said there are no systems in various organisations like the film industry to receive complaints of sexual exploitation or harassment.
Dutta kickstarted the #MeToo movement in India, accusing actor Nana Patekar of sexual harassment.
Patekar has denied the allegations.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) advised the NCW when it was recently hearing a case of not providing information to an RTI applicant, who had sought details of an inquiry into her complaint of sexual harassment at the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC).
The woman's husband had filed the application with the NCW that forwarded it to the DVC.
Not getting information, he approached the commission.
The CIC imposed a maximum penalty of Rs 25,000 on Central Public Information Officer, DVC, Anshuman Mandal, while hearing the petition of the victim who was denied information about the inquiry into her complaint.
Acharyulu directed the corporation to give a compensation of Rs 1 lakh for the harassment caused to the victim, for causing loss of her peace, troubling her with transfers, and causing her to suffer detriment of the right to work and right to life by its lethargy in not acting on her complaint.
The commission also pulled up the NCW, to which the victim had approached with her RTI application, for simply forwarding to the DVC.
"The NCW and Ministry of Women and Child Development have a role, they cannot abdicate this constitutional responsibility of protecting the rights of women from being violated because of the non-conducive atmosphere which prevent victims from even reporting and lack of system that facilitates criminal celebrities to enjoy undue immunity," he said.
Acharyulu recorded his "appreciation" for the ministry for contemplating to set up a committee of senior judicial and legal persons to look into issues that are coming out of the #MeToo movement.
In the DVC case, he said the powerful lobby promoted the accused and harassed the victim by transferring her to different places, while there are scores of employees settled in one place for decades.
"This is how a victim is silenced by system, inaction, lethargy and victimization. When constitutional organisations like the NCW fail, legal systems do not start its course, the victims have to resort to media including social media. Result is Me Too storm," Acharyulu said.
He pointed out that though the victim had complained, she was further victimised, and then she filed an RTI application with the NCW.
The application was simply forwarded to the DVC which harassed her with inaction on her complaint, the information commissioner said.
If this is the plight of giving a written complaint, how any woman will come forward to complain, he asked.
"The Commission feels that the NCW should use its powers to consider the media statements of sexual harassment as complaints, as an extra-courage is required to speak to media which gives huge publicity than to write a complaint which silently reaches to NCW without anybody noticing it," he said.
The information commissioner also said there were no systems in various organizations such as the film industry, including regional industries like the Telugu film industry, and journalists' organisations, to receive complaints of sexual exploitation or harassment.
He asked if the NCW had issued a notice to Cine and TV Artistes Association (CINTAA) for sitting over the complaint of Dutta for a decade.
Not having a complaint-inquiry system is a serious lacuna than the lack of courage in victims to complain, he said.
"Such lacunae will create a sort of immunity to accused celebrities such as film/TV stars, sports persons, CEOs, top scientists or journalists, and dominant personalities occupying public offices like ministers and senior officers or chairmen etc."
"These big men come with battery of attorneys to slap defamation cases which naturally silence the voices," Acharyulu said.
The lack of a system discourages even the courageous victims to complain, he said.