The Centre on Wednesday announced that it has formed a group of ministers to examine and strengthen “the existing legal and institutional frameworks for dealing with matters of sexual harassment of women at the workplace”.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh will head the group and its other members are Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi.
“The group of ministers has been constituted in view of the felt need for broader consultation on this issue, from the point of view of developing appropriate recommendations and laying down a comprehensive plan of action and for ensuring its time bound implementation,” the government said, reiterating its commitment to ensuring the safety and dignity of women in the workforce.
“The group of ministers will, within three months of its constitution, examine the existing provisions for the safety of women, including those mentioned above, and recommend further measures required to strengthen and make them more effective,” the government added.
The Centre also pointed out that the Ministry of Women and Child Development has launched an electronic complaints box where women can submit complaints about sexual harassment at their workplace. “Once a complaint is submitted to the ‘SHe-Box’, it is directly sent to the concerned authority having jurisdiction to take action into the matter,” it added. “A mechanism will be put in place to regularly monitor the action taken on the complaints.”
This move came weeks after dozens of women used social media to accuse personalities from cinema, art and media of sexual harassment and misconduct. The campaign has been dubbed India’s #MeToo movement. Journalist-turned-politician MJ Akbar, one of those accused of sexual harassment, resigned from his post as the minister of state for external affairs last week. Akbar, accused by 17 women, has rejected all allegations against him.
On October 12, Maneka Gandhi said sexual harassment cases at workplaces must be “dealt with a policy of zero tolerance”. She said the Ministry of Women and Child Development would set up a committee to look into matters arising from the #MeToo campaign. The committee will comprise senior members from the judiciary and the legal fraternity, and will look into the framework in place to handle complaints of harassment at work, she added. The committee will also look at some of the complaints, if necessary, and will advise the ministry on how to strengthen the legal framework dealing with them, Gandhi said.
However, women’s rights activists pointed out that Gandhi’s panel might not be enough and it was more important to strengthen existing structures and back existing laws, and make sure employers comply with the law.