J&K yet to implement law on ‘sexual harassment at workplace’

Moazum Mohammad
Srinagar: The poor enactment of laws has been blamed for spurt in alleged sexual harassment and molestation of women folk in the Valley.
To make matters worse, there is no mechanism of internal committees in public as well as private organizations as laid out in the legislation, Harassment of Women at Workplace, by Indian Parliament last year.
The Act, which makes it mandatory for an office with more than ten employees to have an in-house committee to look into cases of harassment of women, is still a far cry in Kashmir as the government has not enacted the law here.
The law came into limelight when Tehelka magazine’s founder Tarun Tejpal was accused by his staffer of molestation.
In Kashmir, in absence of the Act, the victim has to directly approach police station, as happened in the recent case of molestation allegedly involving Director Health Services and his three colleagues. The woman alleged that she was being tossed from table to table, which has been seen as the major cause for victims to speak out.
The case in question has turned heat on the government for “delaying” adoption and implementation of the law in the state which otherwise would provide teeth to victims to register such kind of grievances internally.
“Yes, there is a delay in adoption of the Act in the state. The guidelines are already laid out in the Act which would be helpful to complainants to lodge their complaints. Not only this there is also delay in the implementation of domestic violence law,” ruling National Conference’s MLA and chairperson State Women’s Commission Shamima Firdous told Kashmir Reader on Monday.
The Act states that the complaint has to be disposed in 90 days, otherwise the organization would have to face a penalty. The compliant, if proved, would lead to termination of services or withholding of promotion of the accused. However, in case of malicious intent, the complainant would have to face punishment as well, it states.
“This is a must law and there is need of it in the state. But it will take some time for state government to enact the legislation here as there are certain provisions which have to be looked into as far as state laws are concerned. It’ll be quite beneficial for women as approaching police station is quite another kind of harassment to womenfolk. Also, police has different methodology for investigations which usually leaves a complainant aghast,” Shamima added.
Former Minister of State for Health, Shabir Khan, had to resign after a subordinate charged him with molestation. The victim that time too had to approach police instead of any internal committee to register her complaint.
While admitting that women were being harassed on one pretext or the other at workplaces, senior trade union leader Abdul Qayoom Wani said, “By and large, working women have to bear the brunt of harassment by culprits but we won’t let this happen here. We will press the government to frame in-house committees so that female staffers don’t have to face problems
“Even if we have to sacrifice our lives for their honour, we will persist and launch stir to have those guidelines implemented in our offices,” Wani, who heads a faction of Employees Joint Action Committee, told Kashmir Reader.
The principal opposition party, PDP, too voices its concern over the rising graph of violence against women and looks forward for enactment of the law. “Violence against women has reached alarming crisis. We have to take legislative and non-legislative measures to stop violence against women and it’s our prime concern,” PDP’s chief spokesman Naeem Akhtar told Kashmir Reader.
Civil Society activist and teacher at Kashmir University Hameed Nayeem blames the government for non-implementation of the Act. The priority, for the government, she said, is to control people instead of administering justice to people. “Whenever such cases happen, government doesn’t act against the culprits as was seen in the case former Health Minister Shabir Khan. He took cover under the garb of Indian nationalism. The government shields the accused while they have no time to adopt the laws which would be helpful to ordinary people,” she said.