by Elton Gomes
Taking cognizance of harassment allegations against uncountable Indian men, Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi yesterday said that the Central government will form a panel of judges to advise it on cases of sexual assault and harassment that have surfaced as part of the #MeToo movement in India.
“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,” Gandhi said in a statement, NDTV reported. She added, “We have formed a group of judges that will examine some of the cases in a free and independent style and advise them and us where to go from here.”
Speaking to news agency PTI, Gandhi said that the government is planning to form a four-member committee of retired judges to hear all the recent cases that have come up in the past few under India’s #MeToo campaign.
“I am proposing to set up a committee with senior judicial and legal persons as members to look into all issues emanating from the MeToo campaign,” she said in an interview with PTI, as reported by India Today.
A senior official from the women and child development (WCD) ministry said that the initiative is still at the planning stage. “The plan is in an infant stage yet the idea, the guidelines, the norms etc,. have to be set up. The idea has just been floated and is being considered by the ministry. More details will be divulged by next week,” the official told Hindustan Times.
What will the panel do?
The committee will look into the legal and institutional framework for complaints of sexual harassment. The panel will advise the WCD ministry over how such a framework can be strengthened.
“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…
“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,” Gandhi said, PTI reported.
Making workplaces safer
In an attempt to make workplaces safer, Gandhi said that the government has put in place a legal and institutional framework for workplaces. The framework considers all ages, full-time, part-time, public and private sector, organised or unorganised sectors etc., including domestic workers, students, apprentices, and even the women visiting an office.
“I want workplaces to be made more conducive to women employees, Internal Complaints Committee as required by the statute to be setup, more functional trustworthy systems to be put in place and compliance reported in public domain. Investigations into complaints should be carried out swiftly in a free and fair manner,” Gandhi said, Hindustan Times reported.
Gandhi urged women to lodge complaints. She said that even anonymous complaints will be addressed. Gandhi said that women can complain through a website called “She Box” (shebox.nic.in), which provides single-window access to every woman, regardless of their work status, to register complaints related to sexual harassment. Gandhi further said that women can also lodge complaints at email@example.com.
Probe against M.J. Akbar
In light of serious allegations of sexual misconduct against junior foreign minister and former editor M.J. Akbar, Maneka Gandhi called for a probe into the matter.
“There should be an investigation. Men in position of power often do this. This applies to media, politics and seniors working in companies. Now that women have started speaking out, we should take it seriously,” Maneka Gandhi told India Today when questioned about allegations against a “big” politician.
However, Akbar’s boss, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had nothing to say when she was asked about the allegations against Akbar.
“There are serious allegations…these are sexual harassment allegations. You are a woman minister in charge. Will there be a probe on the allegations?” Smita Sharma, a reporter from the Tribune questioned Swaraj. But Swaraj walked past without uttering a word, NDTV reported.
India’s #MeToo movement
Thereafter, stand up comedian and former All India Bakchod (AIB) employee Utsav Chakraborty was called out by several women, including a minor, on Twitter for sending nude pictures. The incident compelled AIB to put out a statement condemning Chakraborty’s behaviour. However, in doing so, AIB came in the line of fire as founder Tanmay Bhat stated that he was aware about Chakraborty’s behaviour yet continued working with him.
What followed were numerous accounts of women recalling instances of sexual harassment against powerful men from the Indian media and film industry. Some of these include author Kiran Nagarkar, singer Kailash Kher, veteran journalist and founder of the Wire Sidharth Bhatia, AIB’s Gursimran Khamba, comedian Kanan Gill, producer Anu Malik, director Sajid Khan, actor Alok Nath, and numerous others.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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