By Anushka Pardikar
Workplaces in India continue to be biased, misogynistic and unsafe for women. After the pandemic introduced work from home model, the issues of harassment and bullying have become furthermore complicated. The organizations and experts working on issues of safety at workplaces have reported an increase in the number of harassment incidents that women employees continue to face.
All of this is despite the existence of a decade old Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 – a specialized law dealing with issues of harassment of women employees at the workplace. The compliance to this law by organizations has long been contested. Moreover, it has turned into a mere formality for companies to show compliance on paper.
Lack of dedicated budgets to ensure implementation of the act, lack of awareness, hostile organizational leadership, lack of supportive framework for the survivor, and irregular documentation of grievances are some of the key bottlenecks in effective implementation of this act.
Given this background, we at The Analysis filed RTI with some of the major government organizations to know and understand the status of the implementation of the PoSH Act. This report discusses some of the key responses we received from selected organizations – Air India, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Coal India Limited, NITI Ayog, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) National Textile Corporation Limited (NTCL) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
Sensitization remains of no interest to companies
Typically, conversations around PoSH begin and end with the setting up of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), a statutory requirement of creating a committee to investigate matters of harassment at the workplace.
However, setting up the committee is only one of the many obligations cast upon employers under the act. In synonymising ICC with the PoSH, we run the risk of side-lining other equally important duties that is placed upon employers.
The foremost of it is sensitisation and awareness programs that is required to be conducted by organisations for both the members of the ICC and the employees. Section 19(c) of the PoSH act makes it mandatory for the employer to hold training sessions and workshops for employees and members of the ICC at regular intervals.
We asked these organizations about the number of workshops and training sessions conducted for employees and members of the ICC. This was in recognition of the fact that the robust implementation of PoSH is conditional upon awareness of the provisions of the act coupled with compassionate and efficacious institutional redressal of complaints.
To our dismay but unsurprisingly, four out of eight government organisations refused to provide information citing flimsy grounds.
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) declined to provide information citing some protocol grounds.
NITI Aayog, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), and National Textile Corporation Limited (NTCL) did not respond to our RTI queries.
Reserve Bank of India (RBI) out rightly refused to divulge information on the basis that they do not have the data in compiled form, and compiling it would disproportionately divert the resources of the Bank, in accordance with section 7(9) of the act.
Air India did respond to our query.
As per their reply, the Western Region of Air India Ltd. performed poorly. In the year 2015-16, despite a complaint of sexual harassment filed with the committee, there were no workshops or training sessions conducted for employees or members of the ICC.
This trend continued to follow through the course of the subsequent years up till 2018-19.
Most notably, we see an unimproved attitude of the Western Region of Air India Ltd. towards conducting workshops and training sessions despite the number of sexual harassment complaints witnessing a steady rise during the very same period.
Then suddenly, this trend was followed by an exceptional increase to 56 workshops (from zero) being conducted during 2019-20. It is anybody’s guess what prompted this escalation.
Broadly, the Southern Region follows the same pattern but, only with a marginal improvement in the consistency of workshops. The one aspect of distinction is that we see a rise in the number of workshops with a rise in the number of complaints received by the Internal Complaints Committee. This could possibly be read as a proactive step taken by the Southern Region in order to contain and combat growing instances of sexual harassment at the workplace. However, the leap to 30 workshops being conducted during 2019-20 continues to be a peculiarity.
Quite shockingly, the Western Region of Air India Ltd. brazenly stated that no budgetary allocations were made towards organising training sessions and workshops within the organisation. A moderately better approach was adopted by the Southern Region of Air India Ltd. which stated that although no separate budgetary allocations were made, trainings were conducted with the aid of the station training budget.
Further, as regards Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., three wings, i.e., the Corporate Office, the Helicopter Division, and the Human Resource Department of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) performed appallingly with no training sessions and workshops being conducted during the 2015-20 period.
The data from the other wings of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., is an area of concern as well. We see other wings predominantly oscillating between 0 and 1 workshops for the most part during the 2015-20 period. The only exception is the Transport and Aircraft Division which conducted 10 workshops in 2019-20, the Avionics Division, Hyderabad, and Uttar Pradesh conducted 9 and 4 workshops respectively in the same year. Despite these brief spells of hope, the inconsistency across different wings of the same governmental organisation is worrisome.
It points toward an absence of clear-sighted organisational commitment and consistency towards substantial and comprehensive implementation of PoSH.
The purpose of Section 19 (c) of the PoSH Act is more thorough and requires access to an effective and compassionate institutional framework. Conducting orientation programs for the members of the ICC would make sure that they are well-equipped to deal with cases in a delicate and empathetic manner. This has a direct bearing on the number of women who would then find the courage to pursue complaints of sexual harassment.
Therefore, mere setting-up of the Committee (ICC) in the absence of well-trained members is deficient at best, and purposeless at worst.
Unfortunately, the nuance and purpose of Section 19 (c) continue to be unremembered in the conversations around PoSH. Government organisations must be at the forefront of this change with bona fide, consistent institutional commitment toward the holistic implementation of the act.
Anushka is a communications intern with TA. She is an incoming LL.M. student at the University of Ottawa, Canada.
We acknowledge the efforts of Vidush and Shikhar for helping us with RTI filing.
The Analysis (TA) is a research and communication group working on the issues of environment, health, gender, law and human rights. Feel free to share your submissions with us at email@example.com