In the past eight years, about 35 women have registered complaints with the BMC after facing abuse or sexual harassment in agencies and institutions run by the civic body. While some of them are female civic staffers, others are pupils of BMC schools and even patients who have been harassed while receiving treatment at the civic hospitals.
Sources however revealed that the actual number of women who have faced sexual harassment in civic institutions is far greater, as many complaints are registered anonymously, and the special panel that arbitrates these matters has no provision for investigating such nameless complaints.
The official complaints have been registered with a special panel instituted by the BMC in 2003 to investigate complaints of sexual harassment and molestation. Since then, the panel has been receiving complaints from various departments, including the health and education sectors, where there have been instances of patients being harassed by medical staff or school girls being abused by teachers and other non-teaching staff.
The BMC has about 1.10 lakh staffers on its rolls, of which over 35 per cent are women. The BMC has also set up 64 complaints committees at various establishments including administrative offices, hospitals and schools under it. These committees first hear both sides, and then take action based on their understanding of the matter. The woman holding the highest post in the respective institution heads each committee. Complaints against senior officers are sent to the 13-member panel.
Panel coordinator Sneha Khandekar claimed justice has been delivered for 95 per cent of the cases, with the culprit being penalised, while the remaining five per cent of the complaints are being processed. “Not only the BMC staff, but also female patients from hospitals and school girls came forward against sexual harassment,” she said.
Meanwhile, a female BMC staffer told MiD DAY that in a majority of the cases, most of the women do not want to reveal their names and so place anonymous complaints, fearing repercussions. “Sometimes the female staffers ask for transfers to other offices, or simply refrain from lodging complaints, fearing reactions,” she said.
Asked if there was any provision for anonymous complaints, Khandekar said, “We don’t take cognisance of anonymous complaints, as we may be misled.” In 2011, an engineer had lodged a complaint against an assistant municipal commissioner. After thorough investigation, the panel recommended penalty, and the official was transferred to another department.
Help at hand
Civic staff, patients in BMC hospitals, or students of BMC schools can register complaints at this address: Rajgruha Cooperative Housing Society, Balashet Madurkar Marg, Elphinstone (West) Mumbai - 400013. They may also send emails at firstname.lastname@example.org