The government will set up a committee of judges and lawyers to examine the existing legal and institutional framework to deal with complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace, Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi announced on Friday.
The decision comes even as the government is yet to make a statement on allegations by several women journalists against Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar. “I believe in the pain and trauma behind every single complaint. Cases of sexual harassment at work must be dealt with a policy of zero tolerance. The Ministry will be setting up a committee of senior judicial & legal persons to examine all issues emanating from the #MeTooIndia movement,” Ms. Gandhi tweeted.
Order coming soon
The Minister said the expert committee will advise the Ministry to strengthen the existing framework. A Ministry spokesperson said a formal order on the constitution of the panel is expected in a day or two.
“It takes a lot for women to come out like this. These cases have been elephants in the rooms for the last 25 years. The question here is how can they prove these after all these years... they have faced verbal assault, they have been touched, pinched, their clothes have been pulled,” Ms. Gandhi told the news agency PTI in an interview. “The first thing to do is naming and shaming these monsters. Naming and shaming will go a long way in lessening the pain these women have been carrying,” Ms. Gandhi said.
“The Prime Minister has always given top priority to the rights of women. The first programme that he launched was Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao. We don't save our daughters to allow big shots insult them later in life,” the Minister said.
According to a source, the government will appoint a “fact finding commission which will hold public hearings. Women survivors can also offer testimony to the panel. Subsequently, the panel will identify causes and consequences of the pervasive nature of sexual harassment at workplace that could also lead to changes in the law.”
Under the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, (Prevention,Prohibition, and Redressal) 2013, it is compulsory for any organisation with 10 or more employees to set up an internal complaints committee for addressing complaints of sexual harassment. The committee has powers similar to that of a civil court and have to complete its inquiry within 90 days.
To ensure that companies implement the law, the government made it mandatory according to a notification in July for companies to disclose whether they have constituted an internal complaints committee (ICC) to probe such allegations.
Activists and women’s rights groups representing 125 individuals issued a statement expressing solidarity with those who have come out with their stories.
(With PTI inputs)