January 16, 2014
NATIONAL & SOCIAL ISSUES
Battle against sexual harassment at the work place still continues
It was in a village in Bassi and some NGOs in Jaipur and Delhi, 21 years ago, that the battle against sexual harassment at the workplace began. The case of the government aid worker who was raped and fought back with the help of the NGO, however, has travelled a long way since.
Historic Jugdement of SC in Vishakha and others Vs State of Rajasthan and others
Bhanwari Devi was a village-level social worker employed as a Saathin under the Women’s Development Project (WDP) run by the Government of Rajasthan since 1985. In 1992, as part of the organizations work, Bhanwari Devi, with assistance from the local administration, tried to stop the marriage of influential village man’s infant daughter. However, the marriage went ahead and she was subjected to social boycott. The influential Gurjar community felt that the police interference in their affairs must have been a consequence of Bhanwari’s report to the police.
To get revenge on Bhanwari Devi, Five men of the Gurjar community raped her while she was at her workplace. Despite discriminatory and derogatory behaviour by police and doctors, determined to get justice, she lodged a complaint against the accused. However, in the absence of adequate evidence, the accused was acquitted by a trial court.
Many social organisation and women activist took up Bhanwari Devi’s fight for justice. Realising that Bhanwari’s ordeal stemmed from the work she did as part of a government initiative, women’s rights activists decided to take up her case as an example for the need to protect working women from sexual harassment. Finally, together, they filed a PIL in the Supreme Court under Vishakha and Others Vs State of Rajasthan and Others.
In August 1997, the apex court took cognisance of the case and delivered the historic Vishakha guidelines that held that sexual harassment of women at the workplace, which is against their dignity, is violative of Articles 14, 15 (1) and 21 of the Constitution. Sexual harassment, in other words, was held as a violation of fundamental rights.
The Supreme Court observed, “The immediate cause for the filing of this writ petition is an incident of alleged brutal gang rape of a social worker in a village of Rajasthan… The incident reveals the hazards to which a working woman may be exposed and the depravity to which sexual harassment can degenerate; and the urgency for safeguards by an alternative mechanism in the absence of legislative measures.”
The guidelines were named Vishakha, on the Jaipur-based NGO who have petitioned with other four women’s activist group.
Vishakha guidelines, 1997
- Sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour as physical contact and advances; a demand or request for sexual favors; sexually colored remarks; showing pornography; any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non- verbal conduct of sexual nature.
- Sexual harassment as defined at the work place should be notified, published and circulated.
- Where such conduct amounts to a specific offence under law, the employer should initiate appropriate action by complaining with the appropriate authority.
- Victims of sexual harassment should have the option to seek transfer of the perpetrator or their own transfer.
- An appropriate mechanism should be created for redressal of the complaint.
THE SEXUAL HARASSMENT OF WOMEN AT WORKPLACE (PREVENTION, PROHIBITION AND REDRESSAL) ACT 2013
It took the government 17 years to pass the law against sexual harassment in the workplace earlier this year, in the wake of the Delhi gang rape last December, when the Supreme Court had in 1997 laid down the Vishaka guidelines on the matter.
The Act includes many provisions of the Vishakha guidelines, which first called for the formulation of “a code of conduct for work place”. Building on the Vishakha guidelines, the Act calls for the formation of an internal complaints committee and a local complaints committee at the district level.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 seeks to protect women from sexual harassment at their place of work in a much wider sense.
The Bill was first introduced by women and child development minister Krishna Tirath in 2007 and approved by the Union Cabinet in January 2010. It was tabled in the Lok Sabha in December 2010 and referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resources Development. The committee’s report was published on 30 November 2011. In May 2012, the Union Cabinet approved an amendment to include domestic workers. The amended Bill was finally passed by the Lok Sabha on 3 September 2012 The Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha(the upper house of the Indian Parliament) on 26 February 2013. It received the assent of the President of India on April, 2013 and finally came into force on December 9, 2013.
Some important provisions of the Act:
- The Act defines sexual harassment at the work place and creates a mechanism for redressal of complaints. It also provides safeguards against false or malicious charges.
- The definition of “aggrieved woman”, who will get protection under the Act is extremely wide to cover all women, irrespective of her age or employment status, whether in the organized or unorganized sectors, public or private and covers clients, customers and domestic workers as well.
- While the “workplace” in the Vishaka Guidelines is confined to the traditional office set-up where there is a clear employer-employee relationship, the Act goes much further to include organisations, department, office, branch unit etc. in the public and private sector, organized and unorganized, hospitals, nursing homes, educational institutions, sports institutes, stadiums, sports complex and any place visited by the employee during the course of employment including the transportation.
- Every employer is required to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee at each office or branch with 10 or more employees. The District Officer is required to constitute a Local Complaints Committee at each district, and if required at the block level.
- The Committee is required to complete the inquiry within a time period of 90 days. On completion of the inquiry, the report will be sent to the employer or the District Officer, as the case may be, they are mandated to take action on the report within 60 days.
- The Complaints Committees have the powers of civil courts for gathering evidence.
- The Complaints Committees are required to provide for conciliation before initiating an inquiry, if requested by the complainant.
- Penalties have been prescribed for employers. Non-compliance with the provisions of the Act shall be punishable with a fine of up to 50,000. Repeated violations may lead to higher penalties and cancellation of licence or registration to conduct business.
Has anything changed?
It has been 21 years when Supreme Court had first delivered the historical Vishakha guidelines. What has changed over the years and can be called our biggest achievement is that the victim is believed and the case is taken forward on the premise that her word is the truth, unlike 21 years ago when Bhanwari’s biggest battle was to prove she was not lying. Today victims are heard and prominent actions are being taken on the complaint.
Twenty-one years later, the Vishakha guidelines springing from Bhanwari’s case are now at the centre of two high-profile incidents (Tarun Tejpal and Retired Justice Ganguly case) which have renewed focus on sexual harassment at the workplace in India.
Vishaka envisaged that women might finally go to work with the legitimate expectation that their workplace would be free of any of the overt or implied sexual harms— that women would be accepted as colleagues and equals.
And that the responsibility for ensuring that women no longer have to dodge the offensive sexual proclivities of colleagues and superiors would lie with the employer or those in positions of responsibility.
Sixteen years later, those projecting themselves as the custodians of such basic and fundamental expectations, be it a Tehelka, the Supreme Court of India or even the state, have barely, if at all, complied with Vishaka.
Had they done so, the law intern and the journalist would have entered a workplace that prioritized the prevention of workplace sexual harassment, encouraged its employees or members to speak up about it and cultivated an environment supportive of their claims.
They would have been equipped with language that understood sexual harassment as a violation of constitutional equality at work and hailed leadership that promptly condemned sexually inappropriate behaviour (irrespective of the offender’s status).
As a last resort, they would have had access to a trained, skilled and capable complaints committee, with third party expertise, to hear their complaint empathetically and through an informed lens. They got none of this.
In the absence of any institutional compliance, both women were subjected to ad hoc responses based on systemic sexist assumptions.
Summoned before a panel of judges, seven meetings and three affidavits later, the law intern described the experience as “being looked at with suspicious eyes”.
As for the journalist, she made her complaint to the managing editor, a proclaimed feminist, only to find the language of her sexual violation publicly diluted into an “untoward incident”, as a covert means to “protect the institution”.
The most challenging adversary to changing women’s experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace is not the actual offender, it’s the non-compliant institution.
In its failure to educate its own, to inform and stake itself on building a culture intolerant of sexual harassment, such an institution plays the same role as the passive bystander, who fosters hostile sexual environments by simply doing nothing.
Two persevering and articulate women, with everything to lose, and little to gain, remind us of one thing — doing nothing, which perpetuates a sexist status quo, need no longer be our systemic truth. It need not be the way things are.
That both incidents came to light at all is due solely to the remarkable clarity and confident expression with which each documented her experience of workplace sexual harassment by men in positions of power.
Analysis of India’s foreign policy
India’s foreign policy is often accused of lacking realism and pragmatism in the era where it is regularly confronted by China who is following the policy of realism to develop friendly relationship with all its neighbor and has been successful to some extent in developing excellent relationship with all India’s neighbors through its policy of string of pearls and cheque diplomacy.
In this context, the relatively successful implementation of India’s look east policy is worth mentioning. India has been generous in dealing with its comparatively small neighbors and has become realistic in handling its diplomacy. From the recent controversy marred elections in Maldives to Nepal and Bangladesh, India has made it well-known that they are ready to do work with any political party that comes to power. This a drastic change from its earlier policy of taking moral high ground and dealing with only democratically elected governments which were often viewed as sanctimonious by others.
In contemporary times India’s relationships with most of its neighbors are bedeviled by its lack of any coherent vision making Indian foreign policy as reactions to individual events and not based on any principles. Though Manmohan Singh recently provided some clues to basic principles on which India’s south block base its decision on but the same has been derided by intelligentsia as mere rhetoric. India’s relationship with its neighbors is analyzed below:-
1) Afghanistan: – One of the biggest investor in Afghanistan, India has pumped in more than 2 billion $ and is also building key infrastructure projects including its parliament. India has been trying to build key institutions in Afghanistan and is also training its army to help the later in checking the rise of Taliban. It dramatically increased its efforts after Obama prematurely announced USA troop’s withdrawal in 2014.
While Afghanistan considers India as its close friend, it considers Pakistan as its brother and is precariously trying to maintain good relationship with both of them. With the imminent withdrawal of USA forces, India would have to face real challenge in keeping Afghanistan secure and in turn peace at her own border.
2) Pakistan: – India’s relationship with Pakistan was supposed to hit new highs when for the first time a democratically elected government passed baton to other. With a new Prime Minister at helm, hopes were high but nothing good happened. While Nawaz Sharif is known for his pro India views, there were marked increase in ceasefire violations by Pakistan along with beheading of Indian soldier with each event pointing to the string role Army plays in Pakistan decision-making. Thus, it is expected that the going forward, India’s position would be to maintain status-quo while going through back channel diplomacy to work out agreements between the two nations starting with more people to people contact and the pending issue of granting MFN (Most favored nation) by Pakistan to India.
3) Sri-Lanka: – India has never faced such strong negative scenario in Sri-Lanka. While on one hand, Sinhalese government of Mahinda Rajapaksa is slowly using its 2/3rd majority to amend the constitution in order to dilute the provisions of 13th amendment which provides autonomy to tamilian dominated north srilanka. Further damage was done when Indian PM instead of going to CHOGM meet in Colombo and using the occasion to put pressure on Sri-Lanka PM of divulging more powers to tamil-lankans and constituting an independent Truth and Reconciliation tribunal to account for war crimes bowed to the pressure of regional political parties and skipped the meet.
China has been able to foray deeply into Sri-lanka due to such decisions of India and is already constructing Hambantota port & power equipments apart from contracts to supply defence equipments to Sri-Lankan Army. Thus, India would have to muster all its might to woo its neighbor and for that should actively encourage India Inc. to invest in sri-lankan economy.
4) Bangladesh:- India have failed to make much progress with Bangladesh even though the present regime of Awami League is considered pro India having done a lot to stop Anti-India terror camps in its territory. Indian government heckled by regional party Trinamool Congress have failed to ink key agreements like Teesta water treaty and Land boundary agreement which could have bound India & Bangladesh into strategic ties. Due to this, Bangladesh could not sign an agreement with India to use its territory to link with India with its North-East states. This could prove to be a strategic faux-pas in coming years and would choke India’s north east from realizing its vast potential. Again we can see that the principle elaborated by Dr. Manmohan Singh that India’s foreign policy should focus on helping India’s grow economically and integrate with world economies remain mere rhetoric.
5) Myanmar: – Myanmar ruled by military government since last 4 decades have mixed relationship with India. Myanmar have vast amount of non-renewable sources of energy which India failed to use due to its policy of not dealing with military government. The result was that China and its companies made significant inroads in its economy which could pester India in long term as the boundary shared by both countries is often used by anti-India camps to spread terror in India through Myanmar.
In recent times, Indian foreign policy showing maturity have started dealing with Military government while also backing nascent democratic movement being led by Indian educated Aung San Sui Kyi. As a result of this both the governments are mutually executing a project named Kaladan Multi Model Transport project which could provide India an alternative route to its north-east states apart from the chicken neck. Also, the trade between both the countries is growing at a good pace and has recently crossed 2 Billion US$. Thein Sein lead military government could be further prodded by Indian government to successfully allow democratic elections which could further provide impetus to strategic relationship between both the countries.
6) Bhutan: – Bhutan King was chief guest at last year republic day parade signifying the close relationship both countries have. Bhutan’s have recently transformed its governing system from monarchy to democracy and is constantly nudged by India to develop further reforms. Recently both countries have signed agreement to develop Bhutan hydroelectric power potential in order to export the surplus to energy deficient India’s north-east states which could prove to be win-win for both the countries. Also, Bhutan’s strategic location near chicken neck corridor makes it strategically important for India to maintain close relationship with.
7) Nepal: – India and Nepal always have a factitious relationship due to the flexing of economic & military muscle by China. The transition going on in Nepal from monarchy to democracy is littered with problems and this is creating problem for Indian diplomacy to develop a sound strategy to push forward Indian interests. Recently the elections to elect 2nd constitution assembly has been completed successfully with CPM (UML) and Nepali Congress gaining majority of the required seats in turn pushing UCPM (M) to 3rd position. This is good news for India as Maoist was often seen as supporting naxalism in India through the long porous border both country share.
Nepal is strategically important for India as it acts as a buffer between India & China. Also, being upper riparian states for some rivers, India must keep Nepal in good books and see that its transition to democracy is successful.
8) China: – Well let’s talk about elephant in the room. China, the only country with which India have fought an unsuccessful war is often portrayed as its competitor, an observation which given a modicum of common sense seems unjustified. China is well on its way to become a new world super power and India might have to satisfy itself with only being a regional economic power. In that case, it would be best if India could develop a relationship with India which could help the latter to take advantages of China’s growing might in International diplomacy such as India candidature for permanent seat at security council needs china’s approval to the controversial issue of Aksai-Chin and China’s claim of Arunachal Pradesh being its territory should be sorted out with diplomatic channels. Both the countries could join hand to usher a new era in world politics but for that to happen, they would have to sort out their differences and join hands.
As Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh once said that we can choose our friends but not neighbors, India would have to live in a increasingly neighborhood where warmongering, pseudo-diplomacy would be call of the day and if India would have to course its chart through this very territory only if it has to bring prosperity to multitude of its poor and destitute people.
Synopsis Of Current affairs (Jan 10th to 15th)
- A 800 MW hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh, The Tawang-2 and a 12 MT Steel plant by POSCO, the South Korean Steel giant, were granted environmental clearance by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The proposal by Vedanta in the Niyamgiri hills was simultaneously rejected. Though POSCO’s proposal is still being probed by National Green Tribunal.
- On a PIL seekingdirection to halt discharge of effluents into the river Ganga, the Supreme Court issued notices to Central government, Central Pollution Control Board and governments of Uttrakhand, UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. The petitioner contended the unrestricted discharge of untreated sewerage, industrial waste and invasion of his fundamental rights to practice religion as well as right to healthy environment (Art 21 and 25 respectively.)
- Taking serious note of a letter from a member of National Ganga River Basin Authority, PMO has asked the Union ministry of Environment and Forests to probe the reasons for increasing pollution levels in Ganga despite thousands of crores being spent on the cleaning of the river.
- The climate changes caused by severe cyclonic storm Phailin, which was followed by rains in October is believed to have brought changes in the sojourn of numerous migratory birds this winter as their number has fallen considerably. Chilika, the brackish water lagoon in Orissa is vital destination of these migratory birds and a major winter birding site.
- Increased Pollution levels in Yamuna river owing to release of untreated industrial wastes through Panipat drain in Haryana was noticed. The rise in pollution was attributable to high concentration of industrial and domestic wastes being discharged in Yamuna.
- The Parliament of Europe has approved new CO2 restrictions for commercial vehicles that will slash the emission by 28 % . The Climate Commissioner of Europe stated that the set target of emission is achievable and is not too expensive for manufacturers.