"How can the NCW brush aside its responsibility like this? It is a body mandated to ensure the implementation of welfare measures for women. It could have at least written to the company asking if the spirit and letter of the Vishakha guidelines has been followed," Mini Mathew, a senior lawyer said.
She faced sexual harassment at a reputed multinational company and was terminated from services after she sought an enquiry as per Vishakha guidelines (norms laid down by the Supreme Court for the employers to deal with such cases at workplace).
A heart patient who has undergone open heart surgery, she has been fighting a long-drawn, bitter legal battle with the firm since 2011.
Now, the National Commission of Women has allegedly closed its doors to her after sitting on her complaint for a year-and-a-half.
The victim, 32-year-old Nikhila Vyas (name changed on request) received a one-page letter from the NCW a few days ago which stated: “Matter is sub judice before a court/tribunal... As such your complaint stands closed as it belongs to the above categories.”
She had approached the Commission in September 2011 seeking help in her battle against the MNC.
“It is an unequal war. It is one woman fighting against a powerful company which slaps cases against her to keep her away from the original case of sexual harassment. I appealed for help to the NCW; they have said they cannot help me. What am I supposed to do? Be a mute spectator even as the company continued filing false cases against me? If the company has not implemented the Vishakha guidelines, does appealing to the Labour Commissioner to take action justify lack of help from the Women’s Commission? Who will help women like me in such unjust conditions?” Nikhila asked.
Activists and lawyers have expressed outrage over the NCW’s response.
“How can the NCW brush aside its responsibility like this? It is a body mandated to ensure the implementation of welfare measures for women. It could have at least written to the company asking if the spirit and letter of the Vishakha guidelines has been followed,” Mini Mathew, a senior lawyer said.
Sonya Gill, Maharashtra Secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), expressed shock that the NCW did not take any action on the complaint for nearly a year-and-a-half.
“The fact that the NCW has replied to the victim after a long gap… shows that they have done so just for the record. It seems like the NCW and the State Women’s Commission are no longer recourse for women. In sexual harassment cases where timely action is absolutely essential if evidence has to be properly marshalled, there seems to be nothing to pressure the private sector. The NCW as a watchdog seems to be extremely weak,” she said.
“As a statutory body, the NCW could have done much to help the victim. It could have directed the Maharashtra Women’s Commission to look into it in the face of the crisis situation that the victim is facing. It could have written to the Labour Commissioner about looking into whether the company has by any means disadvantaged the woman, violating the letter and spirit of the Vishakha guidelines. It could have written to the police asking them to look into the defamation and extortion case against her in the light of the sexual harassment charges that she levelled against a senior employee of the company,” Anagha Sarpotdar, an expert on gender issues, said.
Nikhila worked with the company since 2006. In June 2011, she was allegedly sexually harassed by a senior Human Resource official. After dissuading her to file a police complaint against the accused, the company itself filed an extortion and defamation case against her when she brought to their notice that they breached their own regulations.
“When I took the matter to the parent company, they slapped a defamation case against me saying I had brought disrepute to the company. They did not adhere to the Vishakha guidelines too,” Nikhila alleged. She moved the Labour Commissioner, Bombay High Court, seeking intervention.
“If the protector of women’s rights becomes a mute spectator, where will women like me, who show the courage to battle against injustice, go? Is there no body which can be held accountable to ensure that women’s interests are protected?” she asked.
When contacted, NCW member Nirmala Samant-Prabhavalkar assured The Hindu that the Commission would go through the case again to ensure justice for the victim. Asked why it took more than a year to send a reply to Nikhila or why the commission chose to close her complaint, she said, “I will have to look into the details of the case.”
The NCW letter, which Nikhila received nearly a fortnight ago, is dated December 3, 2012, and is signed by Raj Singh, Deputy Secretary, Government of India, NCW.