11 women MPs to seek amendment to sexual harassment bill

Written by: Ashwaq Masoodi

New Delhi, Mar 13: With lakhs of women domestic helpers left out of the sexual harassment at workplace bill, women MPs and National Commission of Women have decided to seek an amendment to the proposed legislation, demanding inclusion of the category in it.

"This is extremely unfortunate. National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) figures show that this (domestic help) is the fastest growing avenue. So many women are working as domestic help. Excluding them (from the purview of the bill) is a grave injustice. I will certainly move an amendment," CPI-M MP Brinda Karat told PTI.

Agitated over the decision, Chairperson of National Women''s Commission (NCW), Girija Vyas said, "We will raise this issue in Parliament when the proposed legislation is discussed. The initial document which NCW made included the domestic helps. We are wondering how come they were excluded."

Domestic workers have been specifically excluded from the definition of employee under the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at workplace Bill by the government, saying it may be difficult to enforce the provisions of the bill within the privacy of homes and that there is no prescribed domestic code of conduct for it.

The bill, drafted to check crime against women in workplaces in the light of the 1997 Supreme Court verdict in the Vishaka case, seeks to provide protection to women against sexual harassment at workplaces both in the public and private sector - whether organised or unorganised and also provides for prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment.

Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath has gone on record saying it could be more practical for domestic helps to take recourse to provisions under criminal law.

Contending that the decision is unjustifiable, National Federation of Indian Women General Secretary and senior CPI leader Annie Raja said, "It is a big mistake on part of the government. Domestic helps are subjected to all sorts of harassment. Completely ignoring and taking them out of this framework is unjustifiable."

Women who are employed as well as those who enter the work place as clients, customers or apprentices besides, students and research scholars in colleges and universities, and patients in hospitals are sought to be covered under the proposed legislation.

All India Democratic Women''s Association (AIDWA) General Secretary Sudha Sundaraman said, "We feel it is unfair.

Domestic helps are one of the most vulnerable sections of the society. Minor girls as well as migrants generally work as domestic helps and are so prone to harassment. What happened is unfortunate.

We will take it up as a campaign."

The domestic helps in India number around a few lakhs and there has been a 30 per cent increase in the recent years, a women activist claimed.

Various domestic help placement services in the capital have dubbed as shocking the decision of excluding them.

"It is shocking. Many families who take domestic helps from us torture them. They do not give them salary on time. At least the government should safeguard them," said Kuldeep Yadav, owner of Laxmi Placement Services, an organisation that provides domestic helps in the national capital.

"Why would they do this (exclude domestic helps)? Wherever a woman works, whichever job she does, she should feel protected. She should feel safe. We all should raise our voice against the decision," K C Pant, secretary Rasta, an NGO working for women empowerment, said.

Tirath said the measure is aimed at giving women a sense of security at workplace, encouraging their participation in work resulting in their social and economic empowerment.

"It will also contribute in achieving the goal of inclusive growth," she added.

In the Vishaka case, the Supreme Court has included a gamut of behavioural aspects into what constitutes sexual harassment which is not confined to instances of just rape or assault.

The apex court has laid down guidelines for its prevention and disciplinary action against the erring employee.


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