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What you can do to raise your voice against sexual predators at work

The now-widely circulated email by investigative magazine Tehelka’s founder Tarun Tejpal, in which he admits to sexually assaulting a colleague and then spells his own terms of self-punishment, has benumbed the public. The glibness with which he dismisses the incident as “a bad lapse of judgment” and goes on to exalt his magazine is telling of how normalised the rot of sexual violence is in the country.


Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar

MiD DAY puts up some tough posers to the National Commission for Women (NCW), to a women’s rights activist and to a legal eagle in order to find out what can be done to expose and treat this bottomless decay in the society, if that is being done,and what is the recourse for women under attack at an institution.


Flavia Agnes 

Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar of the NCW, activist Flavia Agnes and Kian Ganz of Legally India take the case in point to tell you how a situation like this should be dealt with at an organisation. 


Kian Ganz

1 Women are now speaking out against sexual harassment by sending letters or on social media. Do they need to make a formal complaint for any action?

The survivors of any form of sexual assault can write, anonymously, to any agency, such as the Crime Against Women Cell, the NCW or the police. Such complaints have to be taken seriously and investigated.
-Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar
Member, National Commission for Women

The Vishaka Guidelines state that every organisation should have their own internal committee to investigate and take action. But such complaints should not be made on social media platforms, unless probed by the internal committee.
-Flavia Agnes
Legal expert and activist

While it is possible for the police to take action without the victim’s consent, in reality, it would be very hard to file a case and ultimately prove it, if the victim is not willing to testify, as is her right.
-Kian Ganz
Founder, Legally India
 
2 There is the perception that sexual violence is at an all-time high. Is there a real rise, or is it because more women are speaking out now, with the media amplifying their voice?

Everything. The cases are increasing and so is media awareness. Earlier, women feared character assassination, ostracisation, loss of opportunities etc. But now they are coming forward, as the society and the media has become more supportive. If handled with sensitivity, such cases would no more remain under wraps.
-Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar
Member, National Commission for Women
 
Such cases have always been there but there was no data on them. Earlier, women would not speak in the open about it, fearing nobody would believe them, and they’d be labelled troublemakers. But in the aftermath of the Delhi rape case and the public outcry, people have started coming forward with the hope of getting justice and public support.
-Flavia Agnes
Legal expert and activist

For a long time, men in power have acted with absolute impunity. Cases of rape and sexual harassment were, historically, buried in the inside pages of newspapers, if they were featured at all. But after the horrific Delhi gang rape in December 2012, the media seems to have woken up to how important and worrying this issue is. They are increasingly addressing it with the seriousness it deserves.
-Kian Ganz
Founder, Legally India
 
3  People have begun talking about a “sick mind”, and that a surface change of the laws would not help. 

This is not about a sick mind. This is a very old and chronic issue, which was seldom spoken of openly before. This receptivity will take time to change. Moreover, changing the law has its significance .
-Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar
Member, National Commission for Women

Of course, simply changing the law does not help. But it is a pointer to the seriousness of the government in dealing withthe issue. Creating awareness is also part of the law.
-Flavia agnes
Legal expert and activist

It is our collective responsibility to support women in physical danger in the office or at home. Introducing harsher punishments doesn’t help. What is more important is the effectiveness of the existing laws.
-Kian Ganz
Founder, Legally India

4 What emboldens people in power to indulge in sexual offences against colleagues?

It is the power, the position and the feel that no one can touch them even if they do any wrong.
-Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar
Member, National Commission for Women

The general tendency to think that they can get away with it needs to be changed. Only when everybody knows that women will speak out against such issues fearlessly would the criminals be scared off such acts.
-Flavia Agnes
Legal expert and activist

When you have the power to fire, promote or hinder an employee or a junior’s career, that creates a massive power differential that has been easy for those in power to exploit in exchange for sexual favours.
-Kian Ganz
Founder, Legally India
 
5 What is the recourse for women affected by harassment atoffices?

They can express their concerns to women’s commissions, or even approach the court, if they are not satisfied with the action taken.
-Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar
Member, National Commission for Women

 
She should file a complaint with the internal committee on sexual harassment. If she is not satisfied, she can approach the court or the NCW.
-Flavia Agnes
Legal expert and activist

The committee should investigate your complaint fairly. Whenever you encounter harassment, gather as much evidence as possible. Save emails or record inappropriate conversations.
-Kian Ganz
Founder, Legally India
 
6 Are the Vishaka guidelines not applicable to the SC, one ofwhose retired justices was recently accused by law students of molestation?

The Vishaka guidelines [laid down by the SC in 1997 against harassment of women at the workplace] are applicable wherever women are employed, and every institution needs to have a sexual harassment complaints committee.
-Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar
Member, National Commission for Women
The Vishaka Guidelines are now, from this year, an Act, and rules are being framed.
-Flavia Agnes
Legal expert and activist

It should be. It is the court’s own judgment after all! Commendably, the Supreme Court has taken good first steps in starting sexual harassment rules on its premises, but it can definitely do more.
-Kian Ganz
Founder, Legally India
 
7 What is the code of conduct applicable to judges accused of sexual offences?

The code of conduct framed by the internal committee as per the guidelines. It is expected to be followed and understood by everyone.
-Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar
Member, National Commission for Women

In view of the recent case, their needs to be a code even for judges.
-Flavia Agnes
Legal expert and activist

The judges are subject to the Supreme Court’s guidelines on sexual harassment as much as the lawyers on its premises.
-Kian Ganz
Founder, Legally India
 
8 Has the apex court conducted training programmes for gender sensitisation to prevent and redress sexual harassment?

As far as I know, it has not. However, the NCW is following the matter, with the assistance and support of the additional solicitor general Indira Jaising.
- Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar
Member, National Commission for Women
 
We have a judicial academy in every state and a National Judicial Academy, which works towards gender sensitisation to prevent and redress sexual harassment. Big money is invested in this, but there is hardly any monitoring to figure out where it is spent.
-Flavia Agnes
Legal expert and activist
 
The Supreme Court registry may possibly have conducted training programmes internally for its staff, though if they
have it’s not widely known. But I’m not aware of any training programmes for lawyers in the Supreme Court.
-Kian Ganz
Founder, Legally India

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