Newsletter Sep 2011 - Apr 2012

The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, which received far less than its fair share of attention thanks to the Lokpal circus in the last session of the Parliament, continues to abound with problems.

As we wrote in our last Newsletter, on 9 May, 2011, women’s groups as well as legal groups and domestic workers networks had deposed before the Standing Committee of the Parliament to put forth their strong objections to several issues regarding the specificity of sexual harassment at the workplace, with a special focus on two critical issues: the exclusion of domestic workers from its purview; and Clause 14 of the Bill, an inbuilt deterrence mechanism which proposes to penalise women for ‘false evidence and malicious complaints’. Such a clause is completely antithetical to the spirit of providing strong safeguards to women against sexual harassment and creating safe workplaces.

The Standing Committee Report on the Bill released in December 2011 has caused its fair share of relief and worry. Relief because finally it recommends that domestic workers be included within the purview of the Bill. Worry because it has made a separation between ‘false’ from ‘malicious’ complaints, which simply defies grammatical and common logic, and recommended that every allegedly ‘malicious’ complaint shall be investigated by the Committee, rather than may be investigated as had been in the original draft. This provision only serves to strengthen the chilling Clause 14, since it means that practically every complainant who is unable to ‘prove’ her case may face the accusation of having had malicious intent -and in turn be victimised all over again. Recommendations of this nature clearly emanate from a mindset that accords priority to, for instance, ‘abuses’ of section 498A of the IPC, the dowry law, rather than recognising the challenges that women face in accessing such a law and getting the justice they seek.

At the time of writing, the National Advisory Council (NAC) has voiced much the same concerns with the Bill, strongly recommending that Clause 14 be dropped entirely and domestic workers be included. The Bill has been recommended for further scrutiny, and it remains to be seen how much further the Bill goes in the upcoming session of the Parliament. It is critical that women’s groups engage urgently with the Women and Child Department which is also believed to still be receiving recommendations and feedback from various unions and interest groups.