Justice Verma panel has ignited a debate on the effectiveness of the bill in preventing sexual harassment of women at workplaces. The bill was passed without any discussion in the Lok Sabha in last September and is now pending in the Rajya Sabha. Questioning some of its key provisions, panel has concluded that the legislation could actually deter women from speaking out against injustice meted out to them.
The jurists panel, headed by former Chief Justice of India JS Verma, in its report, has criticised the bill for having excluded the students from the category of those sought to be protected from sexual harassment.
The panel, which has devoted a complete chapter in analysing the bill, has questioned the sincerity of lawmakers, saying, “Much has been said about sexual harassment at workplaces and this evil is still rampant in Indian society. We, however, notice there was no debate in the Lok Sabha on September 3, 2012, when this bill was taken up and is now pending in the Rajya Sabha.”
It has questioned the provision of the bill which provides for conciliation between the individual filing a complaint of sexual harassment and against whom it is filed. “This is in violation of the mandate prescribed by the Supreme Court in Vishakha verdict, which
stated that in matters of harassment and humiliation, any attempt to compromise is another way of undermining the dignity of women,” the report states.
Justice Verma panel has also slammed the provision in the bill which seeks to penalise any woman, whose complaint on sexual harassment would be found to be false.
“Were an aggrieved woman make a complaint it is possible that she will be faced with opposition from the employer as well? In such cases, it is likely that the evidence may be manipulated by the employer in an attempt to disprove the allegations and a genuine complaint would be rendered false.”
The jurists have also questioned the section which empowers the internal complaints committee (or a local complaints committee) to direct the employer to either transfer the aggrieved woman or the suspect from a particular department, till the time a probe is over.
“Any such power should be exercised with the consent of the aggrieved woman only,” states the report, concluding that the bill “on the whole is unsatisfactory.”
UN: Verma report groundbreaking
New Delhi: Even as the Verma Committee report continues to draw sharp responses, the UN has stepped in by terming the report as a “groundbreaking basis for action against violence against women in India”.
“The report should serve as a beacon for other nations struggling to respect the rights of women more comprehensively by addressing sexual violence through legislation and programmes,” said Navi Pillay, UN high commissioner for human rights.
“I salute Justice Verma for producing such a thorough report so quickly...” Pillay said.
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