M A I N   N E W S

Parties dither on setting up sexual harassment panels
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 2
Actor Shweta Menon recently accused a Congress MP from Kerala of molesting her at a public function in Kollam, but later withdrew the complaint after a publicly apology from the politician. The complaint didn’t go to the party state unit or the Congress headquarters in Delhi although the matter involved alleged sexual harassment.

Even if the actress had chosen to complain to the party, she would have managed no redress because the Congress Party doesn’t have in place an internal complaints committee as mandated by the newly passed anti- sexual harassment at workplace law that protects women even from third-party harassment, as in Shweta Menon’s case.

In fact, none of the six national political parties (Congress, BJP, CPM, CPI, NCP and BSP) have dedicated legal redressal mechanisms required by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2013 that covers all registered undertakings, including political parties, NGOs and even trusts. Inquiries by The Tribune reveal that the Congress has only an “informal mechanism” in place to handle sexual harassment or other complaints from women members. There is no permanent committee to address sexual harassment though the Act notified seven months ago clearly directs organisations to establish a four member complaint committee chaired by a senior woman member to encourage women to report harassment. The law states vacancies in such panels must be filled on priority. But the political class is yet to respond to the law.

In the Congress, harassment complaints are handled by the All India Mahila Congress whose president Shobha Oza when contacted admitted that the party didn’t have a “formal system” to deal with harassment complaints. “We have an informal committee which the Mahila Congress president heads. The committee works when a complaint comes. We then also co-opt the Mahila Congress chief of the state concerned and an NGO representative from there,” said Oza, adding states have similar informal committees.

The BJP doesn’t have a permanent complaint committee either and case-to-case redressal is the norm. A senior BJP leader handling the media, when asked if there was such a panel as required by the new law and the apex court's 1997 Vishakha guidelines, said, “I have to check with the senior leadership.”

BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman didn’t know of the exact status of such a committee. Another woman leader unwilling to be identified said, “One such committee is a dire need of the hour.”

What the law states

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2013 covers all registered undertakings, including political parties, NGOs and even trusts

It makes it mandatory for organisations to establish a four-member sexual harassment complaint committee chaired by a senior woman member

It must be designated as an “internal complaint committee” at all places where women work or which women visit for work

Political parties are workplaces as per the definition of the sexual harassment at workplace law and must have complaint committees in place.
—Indira Jaising, additional solicitor general





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