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R&AW may have to explain abuse case

india Updated: Aug 20, 2008 23:15 IST
Hindustan Times
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The Women and Child Development Ministry has decided to seek an explanation from external intelligence agency the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) on the charges of sexual harassment made by its officer Nisha Bhatia.

This was stated by WCD Minister Renuka Chowdhury here on Wednesday.

Bhatia had tried to commit suicide by consuming rat poison in front of the Prime Minister's Office on Tuesday, alleging that her complaint of sexual harassment against her bosses went unheard in RAW for two years.

The government guidelines on hearing complaints of sexual harassment are not legally backed, thereby turning it into a weak administrative process.

“Prime facie it appears that her grievance was not redressed,”Chowdhury said. Bhatia had said she was quitting because of the way the authorities had dealt with her complaint.

Chowdhury said Bhatia was not the only victim of sexual harassment in government offices. “It happens in all government offices. Bhatia was bold enough to come forward and complain,” she said.

“Women are not objects of entertainment for men in offices. They should be treated with dignity,” the minister said.

Chowdhury said women employees face sexual harassment in the government and in the private sector when it comes to getting increments or promotions.

Most of them don't complaint because of the weak sexual harassment inquiry system despite government guidelines on how to look into such complaints, she said.

The Supreme Court had in 1997 in the Visakha case stipulated a set of guidelines to check sexual harassment at the workplace. The government adopted the guidelines and circulated them to the public and private sector for implementation.

More than a decade later, the WCD Ministry does not even have data on how many companies or government ministries have constituted sexual harassment redressal committees in accordance with the apex court's guidelines.

But, the Nisha Bhatia case has stirred the government into action. “We will now seek information from all the ministries on working of sexual harassment committees,” the minister said.

However, a ministry official said that on paper most ministries have sexual harassment committees but one can question their functioning. The ministry expressed its helplessness in implementing the Visakha case guidelines, saying it lacked legal backing.

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