Harassment at Workplaces:Departmental committee seem to exist only on papers
Srinagar: Even as the government has set up committees to check sexual harassment at workplaces, the working women in the Valley are not feeling entirely safe. While the majority of departments have Complaints Committees in place, their functioning doesn’t seem to be very effective. For instance, Minister for Health and Medical Education, Bali Bhagat, recently informed that committees headed by senior women doctors have been formed in the Health Department. The committee at Government Medical College Jammu has received four complaints, so far. However, there are departments where the committees are either dysfunctional or yet to be formed. “There is no committee to register cases of sexual harassment in the campus. There have been many such cases in the varsity, but no one comes forward to speak up due to the social stigma,” a senior female staffer at Kashmir University told The Kashmir Monitor. There are around 400 faculty members at Kashmir University, of which 70 are females. The number of females in the varsity’s non-teaching staff is also high. The four residential quarters in the varsity house around 1,000 females. President Employees Joint Action Committee, Abdul Qayoom Wani, said there were no committees in the departments to address the problem of violence against women. “Women working in late hours are the most vulnerable. The government should ensure safety in offices by making such in-house committees. It’s the need of the hour,” he said. The departments that claim to have the committees in place fail to share with the public any convincing data about their performance. There is no clear information on the departmental websites or with their heads. Commissioner Secretary Higher Education, Asgar Samoon, said they have an internal committee in place to report the incidents in colleges. However, he, too, didn’t reveal anything about its members or the complaints they may have received. Director Social Welfare Department, Hashmat Ali Yatoo, also expressed ignorance about the committee and its members. “Perhaps, there is a committee, but I don’t know who heads it and if any complaint has been registered so far,” he said. Social Welfare Department was in the limelight in 2015, when a female employee was allegedly raped by an official. An official in the Civil Secretariat, too, claimed that there is an in-house committee in place, but refused to divulge any details about its members or the complaints registered. In Roads and Building Department, Chief Engineer, Abdul Hamid Sheikh, said their committee has not received any complaints. The government has not extended the provisions of sexual harassment of women at workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 to the valley. “The State of J&K has no law on the prevention of sexual harassment of women at the workplaces. But in terms of the Vishakha Judgement, the state is bound to form the in-house committees at the workplaces to deal with sexual harassment.” said Habeel Iqbal, a lawyer in Shopian Court. Chairperson State Commission for Women, Nayeema Mehjoor, said an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) was, according to the Supreme Court guidelines, mandatory in every private or public organisation with 10 or more employees. “The awareness about these guidelines needs to grow, so that women don’t feel vulnerable at their workplaces,” she said. Mehjoor informed that majority of the cases that the Commission gets are from educational and health institutions. “Recently a case of sexual harassment was reported to us from the Women’s Polytechnic College in Bemina,” she said. “We are making efforts to ensure the cases get solved at the earliest. So far we have redressed 40-50 cases. In 12-14 cases, the officials involved were removed from their respective posts,” she said. She, however, agreed that the mechanism of dealing with such issues was weak, as the committees in departments “don’t take such matters seriously”.