Mandatory anti-sexual harassment cells missing from most workplaces in J&K

Violations despite repeated govt directives: SCW Chairperson

SAQIB MALIK
Srinagar, Publish Date: Apr 23 2018 12:32AM | Updated Date: Apr 23 2018 12:32AM
Mandatory anti-sexual harassment cells missing from most workplaces in J&K

Unlike other states, most of the establishments across Jammu and Kashmir, especially educational institutions, private companies and banks don’t have the mandatory Internal Complaints Committees (ICC), the anti-sexual harassment cells meant for victims of physical, mental or sexual harassment at workplace.

Formation of an ICC, to be headed by a woman in establishments with more than 10 women employees, has been made compulsory by the Supreme Court. In its judgment pronounced in 1997, the Apex court had laid down Vishaka Guidelines for prevention, prohibition and redress of sexual harassment at workplace. 

Chairperson State Commission for Women, Nayeema Mehjoor said despite recent repeated reminders, many establishments in the state are violating the Vishaka guidelines, adding that small scale industries and private sector players are the biggest culprits. “With help of Divisional Commissioners we have already sent letters to various establishments, both government and privately-owned that they should have ICC in place. Many institutions and offices had responded to our letter saying they have formed the ICC but there are many violators as well,” Mehjoor said.  However, apart from Kashmir University, J&K Bank, SKUAST, and a few call centres at Rangreth, several offices and institutions which this reporter contacted were clueless about ICC.

Many heads of Kashmir Inc said government has failed to create awareness about measures to address sexual harassment at workplace. Gazalla Amin,a businesswoman and treasurer of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry said there is no proper implementation of laws to prevent sexual harassment of women. “There is shoddy implementation of such rules and most of the times no efforts are made to create awareness about measures to fight sexual harassment among establishments,” Amin said.    

However, Mehjoor said to ensure that Vishaka guidelines are followed, she recently made surprise visits to various universities and colleges in the Valley. She said the mandate of an ICC committee comprising of seven members, with half the representation of women, is to work proactively for ensuring that those guilty of harassing women at workplaces or educational institutions are punished.   “We found out that despite forming the ICC on paper, some private establishments and institutions were not addressing complaints made by women,” said Mehjoor. “Role of ICC members is to investigate incase of any complaints of sexual harassment but we found out that these committees were formed only for symbolism. Surprisingly government offices are keen on formation of ICC.”

An official from the Labour Department wishing anonymity said that small scale units with women employees such as labourers are also mandated to form ICCs. “Even if these women are doing menial jobs in such factories or companies, there needs to be an ICC in place which could deal with a complaint. Industrialists who have set-up companies with investments worth crores of rupees fail to realize the importance of ICC,” the official said. 

Firms registered under Shops and Establishment Act need to have such committees in place, the official said. He said the Labour Department has not yet received any adverse reports of sexual harassment at workplaces but added that several recently formed companies don’t have the ICC in place. “We receive quarterly reports from companies about functioning of these committees. In case there are companies who are not paying heed to this law, we will monitor their activities,” the official said.