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No sexual harassment cases in UP?

This is exactly what the sexual harassment complaint committees in various departments make one believe, reports Brajendra K Parashar.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2007 06:22 IST

There is no sexual harassment of women in work places in Uttar Pradesh! You may have valid reasons not to believe this. But this is exactly what the sexual harassment complaint committees in various departments make one believe.
Though these committees have been in existence for around a decade, hardly any case of sexual harassment has been reported to them. But this does not mean women are safe in work places or they are not subjected to sexual harassment. "Most of the working women face sexual harassment of one form or another," said Rakesh Chandra, head of the Department of Women Studies, Lucknow University. "With the lack of awareness coupled with reluctance to report instances of harassment because of lack of faith in the redressal mechanism sexual harassment continues to be rampant in work places," he pointed out.

He said many women avoided lodging complaints as they feared loss of reputation or job-related discriminations like dismissal and withholding of promotion.

In the landmark Vishaka judgment, the Supreme Court had in 1997 declared sexual harassment of women in work places as violation of human rights. The court had given mandatory guidelines known as 'Vishaka Guidelines' for resolution and prevention of sexual harassment by holding employers responsible for providing a safe work environment for women.

However, the reality is that women are largely unaware of existing guidelines and redressal mechanism. Likewise, in many departments, complaint committees do not exist and if they did they are non-functioning. For example, no sexual harassment cases have been reported to committees in departments like Women Welfare, UPPCL, Transport, Rural Development, Trade Tax and the like. But the Police Department has no such committee.

"There must have been some correspondence if a committee against sexual harassment existed in the department," said a public relation officer at the police headquarters. 

Director (Women Welfare) admitted her department was a nodal agency and all other departments were supposed to forward sexual harassment cases to it. "But we are not aware of any woman having complained about her sexual harassment in any office," she said.

Secretary (Women Welfare) Balvinder Kumar also said that cases of sexual harassment were not reported though he said complaint committees did exist in the departments. "We continue to send reminders to various departments for setting up complaint committees. Recently, we have set up one such committee at the Secretariat level, which is being headed by Principal Secretary Jayti Chandra," Kumar claimed.

Sexual harassment at workplaces, as Chandra said, was a real problem. He said it discouraged many talented women from taking up an office job.

"I am aware of a school in Lucknow, where there were around 50 female teachers and other staff and all of them were harassed by three-four male colleagues. And when women gathered the courage to complain, they were advised to amicably settle the issue," he said.

A woman employee in the Rural Development Department said sexual harassment was a genuine problem.

However, women did not report since the committee comprised only of departmental officers. "Complaints should be forwarded to an outside agency like the Women Commission," she suggested.

Chandra suggested like in many other countries, the government should make a budgetary allocation for publicity of laws on sexual harassment, ensure an effective and natural monitoring framework and must award exemplary punishment to the guilty in some cases.  

Surprisingly, the NHRC, which visited the state recently and held meetings with various departments, is not known to have made any queries on the functioning of sexual harassment complaint committees in the state.