Soon after Nisha Kale (name changed), 39, joined a private bank in the systems department in 2009, the software engineer complained against the line manager who made a pass at her. After a long drawn battle with her seniors and frequent department transfers, Kale quit the job in December 2011.
Kale is among many victims of sexual harassment at workplace, most of which go unreported due to the absence of formal committees to deal with such cases as stipulated under Vishakha Guidelines as per a 1997 Supreme Court judgment.
Since 2010, the labour commissioner’s office at Tardeo has received only three complaints of sexual harassment from private companies from across the state, said additional labour commissioner D P Pagar.
Even the state level central complaints committee that was set up in 1999 has till date received 231 cases of sexual harassment in government offices – that’s about 20 every year – of which 78 cases have been disposed off. Lawyers and activists said they receive at least three to four cases every year but get solved informally. “We have sent 1600 notices and 817 establishments have formed the committees so far,” said Pagar.
As per Supreme Court guidelines issued in 1997, every organization - government, semi-government and private - must have a women’s cell and an inquiry committee to investigate any complaints of sexual harassment. However, in absence of any penal provisions, compliance is rare in private sector, activists said.
“When we approach companies to appoint a committee and investigate a case, we have been simply told to file a contempt of court petition. Companies do not take the guidelines seriously because they are guidelines and not a law,” said Anagha Sarpotdar, an activist and a PHD student at Tata Institute of Social Sciences who is researching on sexual harassment in corporate sector.
“The woman ends up fighting the entire company instead of just the harasser.”