Indian firms take on sexual harassment

Indian firms take on sexual harassment
An Indian protester belonging to the Bangalore Bus Passengers Forum holds a placard, against the sexual harassment of women passengers, in a Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) bus in Bangalore on October 7, 2013.

NEW DELHI- Bangalore-based consultant Nirmala Menon has been getting a flurry of calls in the last few weeks from companies that want help in setting up panels to deal with sexual harassment complaints.

Queries have tripled since the founder editor of Tehelka magazine Tarun Tejpal was arrested almost a fortnight ago for allegedly raping a junior colleague. He is accused of assaulting the woman, a journalist, twice in the lift of a five-star hotel at a company event.

This was followed by another high-profile case of a retired judge accused of sexually harassing a law intern. The intern went public about it on a blog last month. A Supreme Court panel in a preliminary finding found the retired judge A. K. Ganguly guilty of making "unwelcome advances towards the woman". The Delhi police are looking at registering a case.

"With the cases, all of a sudden, organisations have realised the vulnerability of not having (an internal committee)," said Ms Menon, founder of Interweave, a Bangalore-based consultancy that runs awareness programmes for companies on sexual harassment.

Tehelka was criticised for not having a panel, mandatory under Supreme Court guidelines since 1997, to deal with the journalist's initial complaint to the management.

"The bigger companies always had them but now, mid-level and smaller organisations with even 60 to 70 people are approaching us. That is definitely new," said Ms Menon.

The change has come about since India passed the Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, in September this year, making it legally mandatory for companies to set up such panels. They face the penalty of losing their business licences if they do not.

The law has yet to be enforced.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is hardly a new phenomenon in India but, like other sexual violence against women, has long been shrouded in silence.

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