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As govt decides to set up panel on #MeToo cases, PM Modi says must respect women

The government intends to set up a committee that will look into the legal and institutional framework that is in place for handling complaints of sexual harassment at work and advise the ministry on how to strengthen them.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2018 08:09 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PM Modi,maneka gandhi,MeToo movement
Women protest against rape in a rally in New Delhi. India has one of the worst records when it comes to women's safety. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)(Raj K Raj/HT File Photo )

A daughter not only has the right to live but also the right to honour, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday, amid a nationwide debate on sexual harassment of women following the MeToo online campaign — an issue that his cabinet colleague Maneka Gandhi said could be taken up by a new committee of former judges and lawyers.

The Prime Minister was speaking about his ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ (save the daughter, educate the daughter) programme at a function of the National Human Rights Commission. “Some narrow-minded people considered a girl child as unwanted and killed them in the wombs,” Modi said in his address, referring to the banned practice of foeticide.

The Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign, he said, had led to an increase in the number of girl children in states such as Haryana and Rajasthan.

“Many innocent lives found their right to live. (But) the meaning of life is not just breathing. Honour is equally important,” he said.

His comment came hours after Maneka Gandhi said the women and child development (WCD) ministry will set up a committee to examine all issues emanating from the ‘#Metoo’ movement which has spread to India and in which women have recounted stories of their sexual harassment by men in positions of power. The government has come under pressure from the opposition Congress and activists to fire junior minister for external affairs MJ Akbar, who has been accused by several former colleagues of sexual misconduct during his years as a newspaper editor.

“I believe in the pain and trauma behind every single complaint. Cases of sexual harassment at work must be dealt with a policy of zero tolerance,” the WCD minister said.

The committee will look into the legal and institutional framework that is in place for handling complaints of sexual harassment at work and advise the ministry on how to strengthen them. It will comprise senior judicial figures.

“The plan is in its infancy. The guidelines, norms etc. have yet to be drawn up. The idea has just been floated and is being considered by the ministry. The committee will comprise four retired judges. More details will be divulged by next week,” a senior ministry official familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity. Gandhi said the committee will have four retired judges and a lawyer. It will hear all complaints and give its recommendations.

“I congratulate the ministry of women and child development on this decision. This is an amazing decision. I do hope women come forward in large numbers with their testimonies,” said senior advocate Indira Jaising.

In an official statement, Gandhi said in order to ensure harassment-free workplaces — covering all ages, full-time, part-time, public and private sector, organised and unorganised sectors, including domestic workers, students, apprentices, and even women visiting an office — the government had put in place an effective legal and institutional framework through The Sexual Harassment of Women At Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

“I want workplaces to be made more conducive for women employees: an internal complaints committee as required by the statute has to be set up, more functional trustworthy systems have to be put in place and compliance reported in the public domain. Investigations into complaints should be carried out swiftly in a free and fair manner,” Gandhi said.

She added that the ministry had set up a dedicated online portal, She-Box, where women can report grievances pertaining to sexual harassment. They can also email the ministry or post tweets with the hashtag #HelpMeWCD, and the complaints would be addressed. “I urge working women across all sectors to come out fearlessly and report cases of any form of sexual harassment and we shall ensure all possible assistance,” Gandhi said.

First Published: Oct 13, 2018 07:56 IST