Despite the workforce in Gurgaon having a 35% composition of women, few steps have been taken to prevent sexual harassment at workplace.
Although the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (prevention, prohibition, and redressal) Act came into force in 2013, the corporate sector, IT companies and industries in Gurgaon still lack the institutional mechanism to safeguard women from sexual harassment.
Companies are also reluctant to discuss the problems and discuss the laws as they are afraid it could be misused by women, say experts.
A recent analysis of reports sent to the district administration by a local NGO in Gurgaon revealed that only 8% of the companies that held training recorded such complaints in the last two years. This is against reports by 60% of the companies in Gurgaon that they held training.
Nearly 93% of the companies also claimed they received no such complaints in 2014 and 2015. Moreover those who received complaints claimed these were also disposed of within the stipulated time. Experts, however, are calling it an eyewash.
Shubra Puri of Gurgaon First said there is serious underreporting of sexual harassment cases as majority of the companies have not formed internal complaints committees as per the 2013 act. Gurgaon First is an organisation that was started to bring about positive changes in the city.
It was only after the district administration cracked the whip in August this year that the private sector started to take action but the response remains slow. The problem is particularly acute for those working in the unorganised sector such as malls, restaurants, salons and pubs, where the working condition are tough and there is little or no support from the management.
Arya Mangson, a 24-year-old working in a restaurant, says she often faces sexual harassment at work and also while travelling. “Working here is not an easy job at all. The first and foremost problem is that we are treated as sex objects,” she said.
In the organised sector, the problems are not as acute but women face more sophisticated forms of abuse that can have a damaging effect on their career.
Rachna Prabha (name changed) who works in an IT company said a co-worker turned nasty when she refused his invitation to go for dinner. “I complained to the seniors and they transferred him but the problem is recurring and there is need for a system to check such incidents,” she said.
Surbhi Dhingra, founder of Prevention of Sexual Harassment & Child Abuse, an NGO, said the corporate sector should embrace the 2013 act on sexual harassment as it is very balanced.
“At present, there is a misconception that employees could use this law to file malicious complaints but this is untrue as the act has provisions to take action against false complaints as well. There is need for internal committees,” she said.
Vinay Pratap Singh, additional deputy commissioner of Gurgaon, who was the nodal officer to hear sexual harassment complaints prior to the formation of the local complaints committee, said the district administration has initiated measures to ensure that both government offices and private sector comply.
“We have sent letters to at least 1,000 companies to send their annual reports and form an internal complaints committee. The response has been slow, so this work is now being done by a reconstituted committee,” he said. The district administration is also setting up a website for corporates to upload reports.
Out of the 4,000 registered companies in the city, only 1,100 have responded with the information. The district local complaints committee (LCC) is now planning to send notice to ensure compliance by all of them. Anuradha Sharma, the newly appointed chairman, said they have started the work and will ensure that mechanism is put in place in every company.
Veena Gupta, a security expert, who has been holding workshops in private companies, said women employees are still reluctant to lodge complaints.
“The environment is not supportive and the corporates are not ready to accept the problem,” Gupta said.
However, some companies in Gurgaon said they have started putting systems in place.
Rajesh Sharma, vice-president of Sapient says they give top priority to sexual harassment cases and follow the law seriously. “Action has been taken against offenders and employees have also been transferred after holding an internal inquiry. However, we also ensure that malicious complaints are checked,” said Sharma.
Modelama, one of the largest garment exporters in Gurgaon, has formed work committees, held seminars and workshops to create awareness about sexual harassment. “We ask the men and women who work on the same floor to behave, speak, and discuss things so that the environment remains secure for everyone,” said Arvind Rai, general manager (Administration).