Nation awaits ‘stringent’ laws for security of women

Nation awaits ‘stringent’ laws for security of women

Since the infamous Nirbhaya incident took place, women security in the country has been questioned every now and then. But apart from the hue and cry in both the houses of parliament regarding legislation of stringent laws to check crime against women, nothing concrete seems to be in offing at least in the near future.

Member after member in Rajya Sabha has been racking up the issue of woman safety and harassment in the various parts of the country since Nirbhaya case happened. Even during the current session several members have been very vocal on this issue. Jaya Bachchan of Samajwadi Party has been very bringing to notice of the chair the incidents almost every day of her attendance. On 25 july 2018 also she added her voice to Congress MP Kumari Selja’s special mention on women safety issues citing Morni mass rape. A day later Leader of Opposition in the house Ghulam Nabi Azad pointed out to chair the need for government to heed on the issue of women safety in the country.

However these Parliamentarians in the upper house expressing serious concern over women harassment cases being reported in the media seem unawares of a raging matter in their own backyard. Yes! There is a serious controversy continuing in Rajya Sabha Secretariat where a few are pitied against the powerful and entrenched in a battle of honour.

The matter relates to a harassment complaint filed by some junior women employees complaining of harassment to administration against a senior official Rajesh Badal. Sources reveal that after much dilly-dallying these staffer were asked to submit their grievance in written which they did in December 2017. And instead of getting any relief this actually resulted in further embarrassment to the complainants. All parties concerned are working at Rajya Sabha Television (RSTV), a unit directly under the control of Chairman, Rajya Sabha.

The fact that post verbal complaints neither the accused person was quarantined nor were complainants given protection from being approached by the accused. All the time during this not just the accused remained present on the premises but was actually constantly allowed to interact with complainants on pretext of office work. This situation actually persisted even after authorities received a written complaint. There cannot be more horrible example of insensitive and coercive approach adopted in an institution on women safety.

From here on it is only a story of blatant abuse and misuse of powers by authorities- From constitution of the Internal Complaints Committee to handling of the complaint.

The committee formed by RSTV comprised of employees of the channel with one outside member. Nothing wrong with it except that all the committee members from within the organisation were not one, not two but three or more level junior than the accused and had been working in the organisation since almost as long as the accused himself. Rajesh Badal was working as Executive Director in RSTV at the time of complaint being filed. This is the second topmost position in the channel after CEO cum Editor-in-Chief. And at the time of filing of the complaint RSTV did not have a fulltime CEO-EnC. Prasar BHarati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati was holding additional charge of CEO RSTV and the post of EnC was vacant. The situation automatically made Badal the practical Head of Office (HoP). As such each and every activity within RSTV was not just known to him but being supervised by him and hence he knew very well who the members of the Internal Complaints Committee were.

In his position of HoP Badal continued to discharge his duties which gave him access not just complainants but also each and every internal member of the Complaints Committee. The committee was headed by Neelu Vyas Thomas a mere Associate Executive Producer ranked four levels below the accused.

Imagine the situation and trauma of the complainants who despite their complaint were being regularly approached ‘freely’ by the accused even if in the name of office work. And this is also visible in the final report filed by the Complaints Committee where they record that complainants requested to have their complaint be now treated as a “Concern” only. However the request was denied by the committee which is a violation of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 Chapter IV, 10 (1) which says that “The Internal Committee or, as the case may he, the Local Committee, may, before initiating an inquiry under section 11 and at the request of the aggrieved woman take steps to settle the matter between her and the respondent through conciliation”.

So what happened after that.

Things started moving fast from March 2018 onwards when Rahul Mahajan took over as Editor-in-Chief of RSTV. Committee meetings took place quickly to ‘resolve’ the pending matter at the behest of the new editor.

The committee met in April 2018 and passed not just a judgment on the a complaint which has been rejected for being time-barred but also gave recommendation to affect that ‘complainants be severely reprimanded to deter them from ‘misusing’ the provisions of Vishakha Act in future. As they have quoted Section 14 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The section clearly deals with ‘False or Malicious’ complaint.

This effectively means that the Complaints Committee despite rejecting the complaint as ‘Time-Barred’ has yet given its finding on the complaint by declaring the complaint as false and malicious thus exonerating the accused. But in doing that the Complaints Committee has violated the very section they have invoked. Section 14 (1) para three states, “…Provided further that the malicious intent on part of the complainant shall be established after an inquiry in accordance with the procedure prescribed before any action is recommended”.

In the process however they have ended up adopting each and every deposition before them including that of Rajesh Badal, who has effectively claimed that he was made to resign from his post of Executive Director, RSTV on account of the complaint against him.

The disregard for sensitivity towards complainant is visible throughout the proceedings of the committee. The committee first should have ascertained the admissibility of the complaint and then proceed to check its merit. However the committee chose to ignore norms and tattered the sole purpose of Vishakha Act, which is to protect women at workplaces and not vilify them.

The committee proceeded with examining the merits of the matter to arrive at the decision of admissibility of the complaint. Incredibly the committee after just a few meeting “Rejected” the complaint for being “Time Barred”. Yet they managed to examine not just complainants but the witnesses and even the accused. How in the world did they do it should be a lesson for all those dealing in matters related to Vishakha Act.

But that is not all. At the end of the exercise the committee even gave its recommendation on a complaint that it has rejected to admit. Such gross violation of law should be recorded in the history of Vishakha Act in detail.

This also must be noted that the report of the Complaints Committee is “not a unanimous one”. At least one member of the committee has disagreed with the process. The contention is that if a complaint is rejected for being time-barred then examination of witnesses, accused and the giving recommendations is beyond the purview of the committee.

There are some interesting events that have unfolded alongside these dubious committee proceedings.

All these activities started after the change of guard at RSTV. Some reports also appeared in the media that certain people were being hounded out of the channel (https://www.bhadas4media.com/rajya-sabha-tv/). One particular case mentioned was of Rajesh Badal also. As a matter of fact he has claimed in his deposition before the committee that he was made to resign on account of this complaint. His statement is a matter of record in the committee report as the fact that he did resign at the end of January 2018 which appeared in his post shared in an online portal (https://www.bhadas4media.com/rajesh-badal-ke-rstv-se-esteefa/), (http://www.indialegallive.com/media-watch/media-watch-latest-happenings-in-the-corridors-of-journalism-4-43399) .

Is it not time that women members of Rajya Sabha got together to form a Committee and examine the issue in its entirety. After all it has a direct bearing on the reputation of the upper house not to speak of the privileges that are being breached by not informing members of such serious matters.

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