ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Sexual Harassment at the Workplace

progress on pushing through the nuclear deal to George Bush belief in democracy and the rule of law

EDITORIALSjune 28, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly6their complaints. The reason may well be the consequences that follow when women do complain: pressure from the employer to resign, ostracism within the company and an organised campaign for the victim’s colleagues to close ranks against her. Darjeeling’s New EruptionThe demand for statehood for “Gorkhaland” threatens to snowball into a confrontation between various identities. The hills in Darjeeling in West Bengal state have been reverberating again with calls for a separate state of “Gorkhaland”. Nearly 20 years after a high pitched demand was raised by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) under the leadership of Subhas Ghisingh, his one-time protege Bimal Gurung is leading a series of agitations with the same demand but with a significant difference. Under Gurung’s leadership, the Gorkha Janamukthi Morcha (GJM) has asked for a “Gorkhaland” which would incorporate areas within the plains in Siliguri and Doars as well. An indefinite strike call was called earlier this month by Gurung and his party, who have refused overtures for talks with the state government, which, in turn, has refused to acknowledge the demand for a separate state. The agitation in the Darjeeling district has created bottlenecks for transport of goods to the landlocked Sikkim. After the central government received a delegation of the GJM and assured them of tripartite talks if required, the bandh has been lifted until early July. The rise of the GJM has coincided with the isolation of the GNLF and Subhas Ghisingh, the long-time chairman of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC). Elections to the council have not been held since 2004 and the performance of the council has been questioned. There are allegations of corruption even as there has been no significant improvement in the region’s deve-lopment or in governance under the GNLF’s rule. The GJM shot into prominence after its opposition to a memorandum of under-standing signed by Ghisingh with the state and the central gov-ernments to recognise Darjeeling as a tribal territory under the purview of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The proposal, which was in principle accepted by the state government, has been rejected by theGJM which is loath to consider Darjeeling as a tribal territory because of the varied ethnic composition in the region. Since then the Sixth Schedule bill has been dropped. The move to bring Darjeeling under the Sixth Schedule would have provided an assurance on paper that these areas would be self-governed with local laws and with local control over substantive financial and legislative powers. Less than 35 per cent of the hill dwellers are currently recognised as scheduled tribe (ST) members and the move to incorporate Darjeeling as a tribal territory is seen as divisive by the other sections of the hills region. TheGJM had used the “Gorkha” identity sentiment through agitations against non-Nepali speakers and outsiders, which rocked the Darjeeling district in September last year, to consoli-date its support base even as the GNLF was gradually sidelined. By claiming that the Sixth Schedule status was meant to divide the “Gorkha” community in the hills, the GJM has been able to pitchfork the Gorkhaland demand into the limelight again. The politics of identity has been further complicated with groups rep-resenting the Bengali-speaking population in the Siliguri area rioting on this issue. Other identity based and separatist parties such as the Kamtapur Progressive Party (KPP) have also entered the fray by supporting the agitation launched by the GJM. In essence, the issue threatens to snowball into an ethnic quagmire pitting hill dwellers against those living in the the plains as well as giving a fillip to other separatist tendencies in the region. The incidents in Darjeeling suggest that the logic of develop-ment through the means of providing special treatment on the basis of identity, representation and difference has its limits. The state and central governments have underestimated the fissiparous tendencies of using the logic of special treatment methods based on the concept of ethnic difference rather than “disadvantage” in a region that is characterised by multiplicity of identities. At the same time, it is obvious that there must be talks between the hills based groups such as the GJM and the political leader-ship of the state to prevent the deterioration of the situation into a violent confrontation between the hills dwelling and the plains dwelling people of the district. The GJM has accepted tripartite political talks with the state and central governments. Consider-ing the dangerous portents that the agitation has taken, adopting maximalist positions will not result in any tangible improvement in the situation. Sexual Harassment at the WorkplaceMore women are willing to fight back but there is no law dealing specifically with harassment that can support them.The Supreme Court’s landmark judgment in the Vishaka case in 1997 may have defined sexual harassment and set guidelines to deal with complaints from women employees, but not many victims are willing to go public with progress on pushing through the nuclear deal to George Bush when he meets him in Japan on the sidelines of the G-8 summit during July 7-9. Is it not ironical that those whoclaima“shared belief in democracy and the rule of law” do not have even a modicum of tolerance of internal debate and disagreement that is the very stuff of democracy?
EDITORIALSEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 28, 20087From 50 Years AgoVol X, Nos 26, 27 & 28, July 5, 1958editorialsGone Awry...In these twelve months, many things have happened. Foreign assistance has been promised on a scale which could not then be taken for granted. But the food situation has not improved, and defence expenditure has increased to the extent of making heavy in-roads both on internal and external resources. The Plan has been cut, cynicism and mistrust have taken the place of what little enthusiasm there was among the mass of the people, enthusiasm that was worked-up at the time of the General Elections and given a token assurance of fulfilment in the first budget presented to the new Parliament. The contro-versial tax proposals which T T Krishnamachari had the boldness to present, had the merit of acknowledging, for the first time, the financial implications of the Plan, or, for that matter, for the achievement of a pattern of development which is deliberately chosen for the realisation of definite social objectives within a democratic set-up.Despite the improved prospects for obtain-ing foreign assistance, not only does the problem of foreign exchange remain; the present trend of discussions, the series of policy measures recently announced and oth-ers that have been hinted at, all tend to create the impression that this is the problem before the country today, rather than the problem of internal resources. This impression is not borne out, however, by the appraisal made by the Planning Commission only a couple of months ago.That appraisal clearly showed that the real shortfall, on present showing, would be in do-mestic resources, that no more than Rs 2,022 crores could be raised as against Rs 2,400 crores which had been expected, leaving out the uncovered gap of Rs 400 crores. On the other hand, external assistance could be ex-pected for Rs 1,038 crores as against Rs 800 crores originally estimated. (Thus more than half of the uncovered gap of Rs 400 crores can now be covered by external assistance.) The outlook on resources for the five-year period was, therefore, that if deficit financing was to be kept within Rs 1,200 crores, only Rs 4,260 crores would be available in money terms, Rs 540 crores less than the original estimate of Rs 4,800 crores.Bangalore’s garment industry, which employs nearly four lakh semi-literate and illiterate women, reported three suicides last year due to “humiliation” by superiors and a suicide by a 16-year old girl in mid-June due to sexual harassment.Various studies have documented instances of sexual harass-ment, including in export zones where firms employ a large numberofwomen. Women higher up in the corporate hierarchy are no freer from harassment by their male colleagues. For instance, in a couple of high-profile cases in Mumbai over the past year, two senior employees of well known corporates (who have since resigned from their positions) have gone to the police and the courts, and have also publicly aired their stories. (One was a director in the audit firm of KPMG and her case is presently before the Mumbai High Court, the other was a senior employee in the accountancy firm of Deloitte Haskins & Sells). Institutions of higher learning are not free from instances of abuse. A public campaign brought to light the harassment by a senior academic of a junior woman colleague. It required a sustained campaign for the university to punish the offender, a decision that is now being contested in courts.According to the Vishaka guidelines, it is mandatory to have complaints committees in all workplaces. But private companies rarely constitute them while the public sector and government institutions do so only on paper. The published experiences of women’s organisations (EPW, April 26, 2008) show that where these committees do exist, its members have no clue as to their responsibilities or powers and the proceedings rarely result in justice for the victim. The deep-seated attitude of denial (“this cannot happen in our organisation”), the trivialisation that sees a woman’s complaint as much ado about harmless joking and the toothless nature of the state women’s commissions that makes them incapable of dealing with such complaints, all ensure that the victim has little chance of being heard properly. This state of affairs is compounded by the government’s failure to pass a law on sexual harassment at the workplace that would replace the Vishaka guidelines. Generally, Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is the criminal provision applied in most sexual harassment cases (the ruling in the Rupan Deol Bajaj vs K P S Gill case was based on this section of the IPC), the other being Section 509. Yet, these provisions in the IPC, dealing as they do, with insults to the “modesty” of women have only limited effectiveness. There is therefore no alter-native to a strong legislative stance against the harassment of women in the workplace. Imposing the burden of proof on the accused, levying a penalty for non-constitution of a complaints committee, ensuring the accountability of the employer to act upon a complaint are some of the important aspects that only legislation specifically dealing with sexual harassment can effectively deal with.A number of bills (by the National Commission for Women, women’s organisations and the government) have been drafted but there is no consensus on what would best serve the purpose. At present, the draft Protection of Women Against Sexual Har-assment at Workplace Bill, 2007 is pending with the ministry of women and child development. Among the suggestions made by women’s organisations are changes in the bill to provide for pro-cedural training of members of the complaints committee, bring women from the informal sector within the ambit of the law, pro-vide for a protection programme along the lines of the witness protection programmes in some countries, and modify provisions in Sections 11 (no action will be taken if the allegation against the respondent is not proved) and 12 (if a local committee con-cludes that the allegation against the respondent is false then action will be taken against the complainant). The bill also does not provide for an appeal against the recommendation of the committee or initiation of criminal proceedings against the guilty by the employer. There is little information on the toll that sexual harassment takes on the mental and physical health of women, but that it causes huge damage is obvious. Laws cannot bring about equal-ity in gender relations, but a law dealing with sexual harassment would provide women immense support in their struggles.

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