Indian government to form committee to probe sexual harassment cases

Illustration Jayachandran  Mint

"I believe in the pain and trauma behind every single complaint".

She said that she believes in all the women who have come out with complaints of sexual harassment. The committee will look into the "legal & institutional framework which is in place for handling complaints" of sexual harassment at work, including some of the complaints if required, and "advise" the WCD ministry "on how to strengthen these frameworks", the Ministry tweeted from its official handle.

Speaking about the same, veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah said that he fails to understand such men "who try to touch women without their consent".

"The National Commission for Women (NCW) has noticed that in many such cases, victims do not want to go beyond naming and shaming the alleged offenders and lodge formal complaints".

She urged women from all sectors to "come out fearlessly and report cases of any form of sexual harassment" and said, "we shall ensure all possible assistance". India's junior foreign minister, M.J. Akbar, is among those named by several women journalists for alleged misconduct during his previous tenure as a leading journalist and editor.

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At this point, the #MeToo movement strives - social media is bursting at the seams with women documenting their stories on workplace sexual harassment, but this has to be followed by due process in order to build accountability of the state in protecting the rights of women, and this can not be done with a legislation that is not accountable to women's claims of justice, and just serves as a compliance mechanism.

Patekar has denied the allegations, but Mumbai police have opened an investigation into the matter after Dutta filed a fresh complaint. However, that doesn't take away the merit of the #MeToo movement, which has given courage to women to speak about their ordeal despite that it might cost them their career, or harm reputation, and even attract social stigma especially in a conservative country like ours. However, not a lot has changed in the way that the legislation against sexual harassment is used - there were no further guidelines, the law was not amended, and there was no judicial direction on further steps towards changing the landscape of reporting sexual harassment at the workplace.

The #MeToo movement, which began in the United States more than a year ago in response to accusations of sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men in the entertainment industry, gained traction in India in late September after the actress Tanushree Dutta said prominent actor Nana Patekar behaved inappropriately on the sets of a film they were shooting in 2008.

"We have only to look back at ... the hearings with Judge Kavanaugh to recognize that the world is not in a great place for women", Lisa Borders, incoming president and chief executive of Time's Up, told reporters this week.

Fallout spreadsMJ Akbar, a former journalist who is now the minister of state for external affairs in Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party-led government, is one figure under increasing scrutiny. She said her ministry has created a women-friendly environment in which they can complain to her directly. According to her, protecting women has been the watchword of the present government.

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