While the entire nation still reels under the shock of heinous crime against a young girl on Dec 16, 2012, one thing that every Indian will applaud is the timely submission of Justice J S Verma Committee Report. Justice Verma Committee took just 30 days to submit its recommendations for strengthening laws to curb sexual offences. Those who had been demanding capital punishment for rapists are clearly disappointed as the committee ruled out death penalty but instead advocates increasing the sentence term. The panel has widened the scope of sexual offenses including but not limited to touch, advances, disrobing, stalking, voyeurism and has suggested various jail terms for such offenses. This indeed is a welcome suggestion as it will force the culprits to think twice before committing the so called “not so serious” crime.
Justice Verma Committee has also recommended some amendments to the “Protection of Woman against Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2012”. This bill is aims to protect women at workplace and is currently pending passage in Rajya Sabha. As always and more so, in the current scenario, business organizations increasingly keen towards safety and security of employees, particularly women. The shameful incident has in fact, forced corporates to relook HR policies & guidelines on safe and secure working environment for women. However, with reference to the suggestions submitted by Justice Verma Committee to bill, there are mixed reactions from corporates. While the recommendations like removal of three month time limit for filing complaint and creation of external tribunals to address such complaints may be fine but making company liable for sexual harassment at work place sounds little ambiguous. No firm would create an environment that will facilitate harassment and moreover how does one establish the correlation between the conduciveness of the environment to trigger such an action. The most controversial suggestion is the amendment of Section 14 of the Sexual Harassment Bill, 2012. Section 14 advocates to penalise a woman for filing a false complaint. The committee however favours removing the clause and suggests no action against a woman, if the complaint is later found to be false.
However, not many HR heads would appreciate this clause. A mechanism to keep a check on false allegations is necessary. There could be various reasons for such a malafide intention. Various nuances to corporate dynamics – jealousy, personal rivalry, denial of promotion etc can trigger such accusation. If the complainant is assured that she will not face action for her false allegations, the person may be encouraged to take this step. This will result not only in wastage of time and resources but will also lead to unnecessary tarnishing of the image of the accused.
Despite these grey areas, the submission of report by Justice Verma Committee in record time is a commendable job. Government must evaluate and realize merit of various suggestions and must implement the practicable ones. The Safe City concept should move from paper to actual implementation. Installing CCTVs is just one aspect; there are various other issues that need to be looked into. Proper urban planning with well lit streets would discourage the culprits during night. Slums also breed crime. Women residing in slums are most vulnerable with no security at their disposal. The policy makers must look at the possibility of upgradation of slums.
While competent authorities are addressing all this, we must not forget that the quest to create a safe & secure environment for women begins at home. We must inculcate the values of respecting women among our children right from the early age. What is being preached should also be reflected in our behaviour so as to set right role model. Small little things like offering seat to fellow female passengers in public transport will be of tremendous help in creating right kind of attitude among children. Parents must sensitize their children about advances which are of sexual nature and related misdeeds. I strongly urge to all women that they must not tolerate any kind of atrocities being committed at home either to them or their children and blow the whistle irrespective of who so ever is the culprit. If committing a crime is sin, enduring the same is even bigger. We have had enough of hypocritical patriarchal society and it’s high time we break those shackles.
Views expressed are personal.
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