New Delhi: The government on 21 March unveiled the draft of its first ever law aimed at protecting women from sexual harassment in the workplace, a decade after the Supreme Court ordered action following the rape of a social worker.
“No woman employee at a work place shall be subjected to sexual harassment, including unwelcome sexually determined behavior, physical contact, advances,” said a copy of the draft released by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare.
If passed, the law would require that companies set up committees, headed by senior female employees, to handle staff complaints.
A guilty party can be punished in accordance with company policy or with a fine, but the law stops short of requiring dismissal.
Savitri Raman, director of the women’s welfare section in the ministry, said firing a employee would be difficult anyway — although the law opens the way for private firms to set more stringent punishments.
The proposal must go before the law ministry, the cabinet and finally parliament before it comes into effect.
“We will try to follow it up and get it out as soon as possible,” said Raman.
In a landmark judgment a decade ago, the Supreme Court had ordered a law be drafted following the alleged gang rape of a state social worker while she was working on a campaign against child marriage.
The bill covers both women in traditional jobs and the “unorganised sector,” which includes work in homes as maids or at beauty parlours, as well as at offices.
Sexual harassment is reportedly common in India, both on streets and in offices, and is sometimes referred to by the more innocuous sounding term “eve-teasing.”
“We don’t have any studies to really tell us how much this is a problem but there are cases,” said Raman.
As the economy booms, women are increasingly taking jobs at offices, call centres and even in the army. But men are still adapting to the change.
India’s deputy army chief said in an interview last June to a leading daily that the country could “do without” female officers because they made troops uncomfortable.