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LS okays Bill to stop workplace sexual harassment
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 3
The Lok Sabha today passed a historic draft legislation which, for the first time in India's history, prohibits sexual harassment of women at workplace and prescribes penalties for employers who fail to offer the mandated protections. Domestic workers have been included in the law as working women. The law, however, is not gender neutral.

Titled "Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2012, the Bill contains provisions to guard every woman, employed or not, against sexual harassment at workplace which has been defined as any establishment, government or private, including nursing homes/hospitals, sports stadia, training centres/games venue and even places a woman visits while on job.

A dwelling place (house) has also been defined as workplace under the law - a reworked version of the Bill the Government first introduced in LS on December 7, 2010. The old Bill had excluded domestic workers. But following the recommendations of the parliamentary panel which reviewed the law, Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath today presented an all new Bill to the LS, moving a whopping 45 amendments over the old version. The amendments include the provision to cover domestic workers and another to exclude monetary agreements as part of conciliation efforts.

This Bill (and two more) were passed without any debate in the din which the BJP has been creating over coal block allocations by the Government. BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said the party supported these laws and therefore the lack of debate didn't matter.

The law defines sexual harassment as unwelcome behaviour towards women such as physical contact and sexual advances; seeking sexual favours; passing sexually coloured remarks; showing pornography or acts (direct or by implication) of sexual nature. It prohibits further harassment -- promise of preferential treatment, threat of detrimental treatment, hostile environment or humiliation affecting a woman's health.

Every employer is required by law to constitute an "Internal Complaint Committee" in each branch with 10 or more employees. The district authorities must set up Local Complaints Committees to accept complaints from women working in organisations with less than 10 employees or women who are accusing the employer himself.

A victim needs to complain in writing to either the internal or the local complaints committee. If the case is against another employee, the committee will follow service rules. If the complainant is a domestic worker, the committee will, if a case is made out, refer the complaint to the police for registration of a case under Section 509 IPC (outraging a woman's modesty).

Once the respondent is found guilty, the employer would be bound to accept the committee report and punish the guilty by, for instance, deducting from his salary a sum to be paid to the victim. 

Why the law

India ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) but didn't have a law to address sexual harassment at workplace

The IPC only covers outrage to "modesty"; not hostile workplace situations

The apex court in 1997 Vishaka judgment sought such a law

The government introduced a Bill in Lok Sabha in December 2010; parliamentary panel recommended changes

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