Recently, the NGO Greepeace India drew flak and was dragged to court over sexual harassment complaints lodged by its former employees. In 2013, Tehelka’s founder Tarun Tejpal was arrested on rape charges. It has been two years since a law came into place replacing the Vishakha Committee guidelines of the Supreme Court, the only statute on workplace sexual harassment in the country. But, the issue is yet to be sieved out of the fabric of many organisations, and continues to contribute to the yearly rising figure.
A UNDP study reveals that Asia is one of the slowest growing regions in terms of workplace representation of women. While the female-male ratio in several fields including banking and automobiles can be off, it serves to increase harassment cases.
Section 4 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) provides for an Internal Complaints Committee or ICC within every company. This would be the formal body that would hear the complaints and help reach a conciliation or proceed further with the case. But, for many like Malavika* a young executive who had received her dose of legal justice, there is still no ‘corporate justice’ in sight.
The 28-year-old, after having her superior dismissed for physical acts of perversion, reveals she was only living in a fool’s paradise thinking she can move on with her work. “A week later, I was moved to the factory unit of the company where there was no scope of work for me. The management shifted me around a lot after that, until after a point I had to quit my job,” she says.
The law mandates all companies to set up an ICC with 50 per cent women employees, members who have either legal knowledge or who have experience in social work and finally, one external representative from an NGO. Yet, that hasn’t pulled down the high number of harassment instances happening behind closed doors of corporate offices.
“There are a large number of working women who simply can’t afford to go through with a complaint at the cost of risking their job and face bullying from the people as well as the company. It is a persisting reality in India,” says Selvi Rajith, legal executive and first-hand witness of workplace harassment cases.
Although posing as an unpalatable issue for organisations, the act’s proper implementation can help building safer work environments.
“Internal Committees can help mitigate the situation, and when that fails, the victim can even demand a reconstitution of the body. But if the case is severe, it has to be taken up to the next level, with the police,” says leading advocate Sudha Ramalingam, who is part of ICC committees in a few private firms.
There are instances where a clear case of harassment gets brushed under the rug because an organisation or its committee pardons a stalker or molester for being a ‘family man’.
“The only way to avoid these instances is by sensitising employees and members on the issues surrounding harassment,” Sudha adds.