Ramya Chellapa

(Based on a report in the Hindu, March 31, 2007)


In a landmark judgment in the case of Visakha vs. State of Rajasthan in 1997, the Supreme Court defined a set of guidelines for institutions to follow on sexual harassment at the workplace. Later, a survey conducted by the National Commission for Women (NCW) revealed that 60% of women employees and many employers didn’t know about the guidelines. This led to the creation of the draft bill:  ‘Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill 2007’. On March 31, the Hindu published comments from women from all walks of life on the effect of this bill on women in the unorganized sector. Here are some excerpts:


Advocate Sudha Ramalingam says that the draft bill does not embolden aggrieved women to file a complaint and points out the major flaws in the draft bill.

Under Section 8, the option of reconciliation before the enquiry begins, provides an opportunity to the offending employer to put pressure on a woman to withdraw her case.

Under Section 12, it states that if the allegation is not proven, the woman can be taken to task. This would deter many women from filing charges as sexual harassment is difficult to prove.

Under Section 11(4), the employer is given the option of changing the final report in consultation with the committee. This is not right when the sole reason for setting up the committee is because the employer is not competent to come to a conclusion.

Finally, the maximum fine that can be imposed on the employer is Rs. 10,000. As everyone knows, this is a pittance for most companies these days.


R.Geetha, Advisor to the Women’s Struggle Committee suggests a national level legislation to form a “Sectoral Tripartite Board”, where every employee and employer of the unorganized sector should register. This would make sure that necessary action is taken against the employers when the employees are treated unjustly. She says that even though several Sectoral Tripartite Boards exist in Tamil Nadu, they cover only some sections of unorganized labor.


Geetha goes on to suggest that each board must have a separate “Complaints Committee” to receive the complaints. As per the draft bill, the women are advised on what to do, but the committee should take the case forward and register the case. She also states that the committee’s report should be binding on the employer and the provision in the draft bill that allows the employer to change the conclusion (in consultation with the committee – Section 11(4)) should be removed. Immediate action should be taken and the victim should not be further victimized with a transfer. She also insists that shelter and economic assistance should be provided to the woman during enquiry.


B. Palayam of the Women’s Struggle Committee – Unorganised Workers Federation suggests that representatives from NGOs committed to women’s rights should be part of the committee and that such NGOs should be allowed to oversee the workings of the committees. Gomathy of the Village Health Nurses Association says that the relief to be given to the woman during the period of enquiry should be specified clearly and questions the justice in letting the employer change the conclusion after the enquiry in Section 11(4) of the draft bill. M.S. Jayalakshmi of Annai Illam, says that the bill should be widely publicized and should be worded in such a way that even lay people can understand it. R. Uma Maheswari, an Officer of the Central Government also supports the bill and says that the committees that exist in most companies are a charade. She agrees that the law may be misused but insists that it should not be a reason to kill the bill.

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