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War widows allege sexual harassment

Two widows level harassment charges against their superior, who bluntly denies them, reports Saroj Nagi.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2007 18:10 IST
Saroj Nagi

Two war widows from Punjab petitioned the National Commission for Women for help against sexual harassment by their superior, Sainik Welfare Board (SWB) chief Brig (retd) JS Jaswal who, in Chandigarh, denied the charge.

Anti-Terrorist Front chairman MS Bitta accompanied 38-year-old Raj Kaur, widow of hawaldar Gurmail Singh, a sena medal winner who died in Operation Rhino in Assam, and Margaret Gill when they submitted a memorandum to NCW chairperson Girija Vyas alleging that Jaswal sexually harassed them continually at their offices in Chandigarh and Bhatinda, punishing them with adverse career reports and blocking their discretionary benefits for rebuffing him.

Vyas said that the NCW had received a copy of the complaint a week back and has asked for an action taken report. But there has been no reply from the SWB so far. "If necessary, we will send a team for an inquiry," she said.

She wondered whether the Supreme Court mandated cell to receive complaints against sexual harassment at workplace was inactive or had not been set up at the SWB. "We are looking into the whole matter," she said.

In their memorandum, Bitta, Gill and Raj Kaur alleged that the directorate and the Sainik rest houses have become "dens of moral turpitude" and demanded a CBI probe into the matter and punishment of the culprits, including Jaswal's personal assistant. Bitta also intends to take the two women to meet Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and the wife of Army chief JJ Singh.

Speaking to reporters, Raj Kaur, a clerk with the Board, said she even thought of committing suicide alongwith her two children when her complaints to the local police and other officials came to naught.

"We have come to the NCW with a heavy heart and a lot of hope," said Raj Kaur and Gill, another fourth class employee who alleged she was harassed even after getting herself transferred to Bhatinda.

Gill's daughter Seema, on her part, urged other victims of harassment to step forward with their complaints to clean up the system.

After Gill went public with her charge at a press conference at Chandigarh on January 2, Jaswal dismissed the allegation with a counter charge that the women accusing him of misbehaviour were not above board. The retired Army officer, who is already facing an inquiry by the Chandigarh police, on Monday once again denied the charges.

Jaswal denied meeting Gill who was not even in the direct chain of command under him and was suspended. "She is implicated in a case of forgery and has been suspended by the department three or four times," he said. "An inquiry, conducted against Raj Kaur by the SC/ST Commission on allegations that she used racist abuses against my PA, had found her guilty. She was never directly working under me. I have never made any sexual advances towards her and these allegations have been levelled to scuttle departmental action after the commission's report," he said. And Bitta's move, he alleged, was prompted by electoral considerations.

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First Published: Jan 09, 2007 17:56 IST