The recent allegations of sexual harassment against Tehelka’s founder and a former Supreme Court judge have snowballed into a major controversy and brought to the fore the burgeoning issue of women’s safety at the workplace.
Sexual harassment at a workplace not only provides a hostile environment to the fairer sex but also projects them as vulnerable beings. Hindustan Times takes a closer peek at sexual harassment committees in key institutions of Chandigarh.
A reality check on these committees reveals how administrative hierarchy is ‘casting a shadow’ on their functioning, proving them a mere eye wash.
Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER):
The institute has a sexual harassment committee headed by Savita Malhotra but not many employees are aware of the same.
Surprisingly, Malhotra — who has been heading the committee for the last three years – expressed ignorance about its panel members and said, “I am not aware about its members. You will have to check with the administrative staff.”
Malhotra — who doesn’t even remember when she took over the committee — said, “On an average, the panel receives two or three complaints in a year.” She, however, said complaints were not received directly but through the administration.
Explaining the procedure followed by the committee, Malhotra, said, “The committee prepares the report and the administration takes the final call. The members meet only if a complaint has been made.”
The most significant case so far reported was in December 2012, following which an assistant professor was terminated. The services of Dr Parveen Bansal were terminated after he sent ‘vulgar’ SMSs and jokes to a laboratory technician. It was only after the lab technician raised the matter with the authorities that PGIMER terminated Bansal’s service.
Panjab University (PU)
Though the varsity recently formed a policy to deal with sexual harassment cases, it remains only on paper. The committee, formed in August, has not worked on any complaint till now. This is because the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 — that the committee has been asked to follow — has not been notified so far.
The infighting among the PU faculty has left the committee headless. Chairperson Prof Nistha Jaswal shot a letter to vice-chancellor Prof Arun Grover a week ago, citing reasons that the panel could not follow the Act as it had not been notified.
Following this, she tendered her resignation as chairperson of the sexual harassment committee. “The guidelines to be followed are not clear and I have resigned as the chairperson,” says Jaswal. Meanwhile, PU official spokesperson said Jaswal’s resignation had not been accepted yet.
A sexual harassment case was reported by a student from the Department of Chinese and Tibetan languages in July this year. However, the infighting among the PU faculty has left the case in limbo.
A research scholar, pursuing PhD in Tibetan/Buddhist studies, alleged that her guide sexually harassed her on the pretext of getting her research work completed. Later, the student withdrew her registration, even before completion of her PhD.
Though details of the case were submitted with the committee, no action has been taken so far.
Punjab and Haryana High Court
The high court has a three-member committee comprising three judges — Justice Daya Chaudhary, Justice Ritu Bahri and Justice Inderjit Singh.
Ajay Sheoran, an advocate, says, “The panel only deals in sexual harassment cases related to judges or employees of the high court, while complaints pertaining to lawyers are not looked into.”
On November 18, a representation signed by nearly 60 advocates was filed before the Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana high court for setting up a Gender Sensitization and Internal Complaints Committee (GSICC), to tackle sexual harassment cases and ensure a safe working environment for women on the precincts of the high court and subordinate courts of Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana.
The representation seeks to have an additional committee, besides the one existing, which has only judges as its members.
Explaining why the committee was required, Sheoran, says, “The Supreme Court in its judgment in the Binu Tamta v/s High Court of Delhi vide order dated 17th July, 2013, has already ordered formation of ‘Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committees’ in the Supreme Court.”
Though government and private schools formed sexual harassment committees three years ago, no complaint has been received till date. Principals and teachers are its members.
On the contrary, numerous cases of sexual harassment were reported by girl students of government schools to the police when the latter organised talks on women safety. Sadly, these committees are more or less lying defunct due to the absence of any laid down policy or stipulated schedule.
Director, public instructions, (schools) Kamlesh Kumar, says, “There should be a committee to look into the matter. As of now, no issues have been reported. Whenever I visit schools, I communicate with girls to make them feel comfortable.” However, she did not divulge measures being taken by UT administration to strengthen these committees in schools.
A large number of women are employed in the hospitality industry. These women stated that since their work ethics did not permit them to be rude to customers, they were forced to bear lecherous stares and lewd remarks. While renowned hotels have specific in-charges to deal with such complaints, in smaller establishments, complainants directly approach the manager or owner.
Man Mohan Singh, president, Hotels Association, says, “We have a proper system in place to deal with such complaints. There have been cases in the past when the defaulters were sacked. ”
Driven to despair-yojana yadav
Working night shifts in a newspaper has its challenges, particularly for women. Most challenges like adapting to the reverse body clock and tight deadlines are overcome with time but after 18 years in the profession, there is one challenge that still stares at me. It is about returning home from work past 1am.
For safety’s sake, I still have to be dropped home by the office transport and can’t drive back home in my car after a graveyard shift. I have often envied male colleagues who can chat on and unwind after a hectic shift before zooming home in their cars or bikes, while I have to share the office van with other colleagues and reach home after an hour. I can’t doze off, again for my safety, despite the guard escorting me as I’m the last to be dropped.
Last April, however, I was able to convince my family that I could drive my brand new car after winding up work a bit early. Armed with a cellphone, I thought I could take on anything in the world. I was wrong.
I would start from office after giving my folks a wake-up call after midnight. I felt guilty but that was a pre-condition my dad insisted on. I would zoom home, rarely looking left or right. No dark films on the windows made me feel vulnerable and I would say a silent prayer, without closing my eyes, when a vehicle slowed down while overtaking. I would jump traffic lights because I was being tailed. The PCR vans were few and far between, and frankly a cop waving me down was the last thing I wanted at that hour. But the cops were curious. The ‘Press’ sticker and identity card were no proofs of innocence. They flashed the torch in my eyes, scanned the insides of the car and let me off with a smirk.
One night, the curious driver of a white Hyundai Sonata decided to drive alongside from Centra Mall turn to the road dividing Sectors 17 and 9 in Panchkula. When I slowed down, hoping he’d overtake, he slowed down too. I accelerated, so did he. A while later, he drove ahead and slowed down in front, forcing me to go dead slow. He lowered his window and flashed the middle finger. I was seething but let the moron be. He almost crashed into the Sector 16 roundabout when I gave him the slip by taking a route I don’t usually take. I was so paranoid of being followed that when I stepped out to open the gate, I kept looking over my shoulder. I never shared these experiences with my family.
In a totally unrelated incident, a male colleague’s windshield was smashed by a big stone thrown by a stranger. He escaped unhurt but the damage was collateral. I mentioned the incident at home and it was the end of my adventure.
Majority of women are working. It is the responsibility of every employer to provide them a safe and secure working environment. The rule is also mandatory and every workplace should follow the same.
Gurmeet Singh, lawyer, Punjab and Haryana high court
We have a committee at PU and in my opinion, panels should work in a time-bound manner. Also, if the victim is not satisfied with the committee’s decision, she is free to approach the police.
Rajesh Gill, professor
Every school has a committee and necessary action should be taken if such an incident comes to light. Such complaints should be dealt with strictly.
HS Mamik, president, Independent Schools Association
Committees to deal with sexual harassment cases at theworkplace are the need of the hour. Women hesitate to approach the police. For them, such committees will provide a platform where they can share their grievances.
Hardeep Kaur, works at apparel store in Sector 10
These committees are needed. Working professionals like me need a panel within the organisation to share untoward incidents. Depending upon the seriousness of the matter, the committee should take action.
Veena Pawar, working professional
Women have varied professions. We need such committees to protect their integrity. Also, a mechanism needs to be put into place to check whether such committees are functioning at workplaces or not.
Lilly Bawa, councillor, Panchkula Municipal Corporation
As per the new law, it is mandatory to have such committees at all workplaces. A lot is said but little is done for the safety of women. An ex-officio member and neutral party should be a member of these committees.
PIP Singh, lawyer, district courts
Every workplace should have such a committee. Also, any committee working on sexual harassment cases should work in a time-bound manner. It should also arrive at a decision within a stipulated time frame.
Dr Sandeep Dhawan, city-based doctor
It is mandatory to have a sexual harassment committee at a workplace. These committees should not only deal with complaints, but also work towards sensitising male staff towards their women colleagues.
TS Sudan, lawyer, district courts