Objections to the HRD committee on Sexual Harassment Bill

To,
THE COUNCIL OF STATES (RAJYA SABHA)
Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development

Sub: Views on the current draft of the proposed “Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010

Views and Reservations:

We have the following views about the Bill:-

  1. No Locus Standi for the WCD ministry to draft the bill: The bill, at hand, has been drafted by the Honorable Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, henceforth referred to as the WCD ministry. However, the WCD ministry has no locus standiin drafting this bill.
    1. The WCD ministry cannot take refuge under the Article 15(3) of the Constitution of India and violate the essence of the main article i.e. Article 15 which prohibits any form of discrimination based on age, caste or gender. If that had been the case the Constitution of India would be rendered self-contradictory.
    2. When the WCD ministry had sought public opinion about the bill, the general reflection of the citizenry was that the bill must be gender neutral. However, for reasons best known to them, the WCD ministry chose to override the general public opinion and drafted a bill that is gender biased and against the general public opinion. The justification given by them, when asked in an application filed under the Right to Information Act, 2005, was that, “Protection of men does not come under their mandate.” The justification in itself is valid; however, it does not give the WCD ministry, a right to draft a bill which may affect men adversely as well. If protecting men does not come under their mandate, nor does attacking men come under their mandate.
    3. The WCD ministry has also given a reply that, “The overwhelming nature of sexual harassment is sexual harassment of women on account of their female sex. Harassment of men cannot be put on the same footing character wise or incidence wise. This statement also reflects an anti-male attitude on the part of the WCD ministry and hence, this ministry cannot be entrusted with the drafting of a bill that will affect more than 50% of the population of India. The WCD ministry has not backed its statement by any such kind of study done, it is merely based on hallucinated assumptions that men do not face sexual violence from women and should not be protected. Drafting a law based on hallucinated assumptions can have seriously irreparable and disastrous social consequences.
    4. Allowing the WCD ministry to draft this bill is similar to saying the Govt. of India will be allowing a ministry to draft a bill affecting both Hindus and Muslims, whence that particular ministry has made a clear official statement that “protection of Muslims is not its mandate.” Will not such a step provoke religious war? Then, how the WCD ministry drafting the current bill, at hand, will not provoke a gender war? Relevant RTI documents are attached as Annexure A.
    5. Lastly, as the WCD ministry does not represent the entire population of the country, it should not be allowed to draft a law affecting the entire population. This law must be drafted by some ministry that has the interest of all citizens in its mandate like the Ministry of Law and Justice.
    6. False cases of sexual harassment have already been filed against men:
      1. Air India pilots Aditya Chopra and Amit Khanna were accused by air hostess Komal Singh of sexual harassment inside cockpit and an investigation committee by the Air India, later found out that the case was false and it was Komal who had actually flouted flight norms and entered the cockpit area when she was not supposed to enter. And when the pilots asked her to return back, she refused to do so, an argument ensued followed by Komal’s allegations. The media carried out a mass media-conviction for the pilots and a few self-styled women’s rights activists making claims that how unsafe it is for women etc., whereas the reality is something totally different. It was not Komal, but the pilots here who were victims of anti-male social mindset and lost their self-respect and dignity. And in such cases, mere wherewithal of allegations does not wash away the wounds of humiliation and trauma incurred. Media report is attached as Annexure B.
      2. Another such case which hit the headlines was the famous KPMG case wherein a woman director dragged 4 of its top executives to court alleging that they had failed to take action against her complaint of alleged sexual harassment against 3 of her senior colleagues. Later it turned out, that the 4 accused top executives had actually formed a committee to look into the allegations but the complainant woman did not appear before the committee despite repeated reminders. Here, too a media-conviction was carried out. Media report is attached as Annexure C.
      3. More such celebrity cases are those of International Monetary Fund chief Dominic Strauss Kahn being accused of “attempt to rape” by a hotel maid and later the authorities just fell short of even preliminary evidence to form a case, let alone proving any charge against him. Business Tycoon, Azim Premji, chairman of the Wipro Group, was dragged under a case of Domestic Violence Act by a wife of his employee claiming Wipro gives “Dating Allowance” to its employees. Later it turned out that Wipro’s salary structure have had no such component, ever. Infosys top brass official Phaneesh Murthy was ousted from the company merely after allegations of sexual harassment were levied against him. Hewlett Packard CEO Mark Hudd too faced a similar fate, having lost his job to a bunch of false allegations of sexual harassment.

It must be noted here that if these men of substance, power and positions have no security against false allegations or perverted social mindset, the fate of a common man is only worse than this. And all this happens merely because of our stereotypical social mindset that it’s only the men who are evil and it’s always the women who are victims. The famous Bollywood movie of 2003, titled, “Aitraaz”, starring Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapur and Priyanka Chopra, clearly enunciated the very perverted social mindset wherein Priyanka tries to force herself onto Akshay, who is already married. Feeling sexually victimized, he moves the court against her seeking justice. But, during the course of the trial, he ends up defending himself against allegations of “attempt to rape” on Priyanka. Such dangerous social mindsets, thought depicted in a movie, are clear reflections of a social reality that men have to live through and it is a constant threat for a man when it comes to interacting with a woman. By making the sexual harassment law, gender biased, anti-male, all we will be doing is to aggravate this situation for men and corner them totally, by denying them the much needed channel of communication.

  1. Men need protection from feminine sexual aggression: As has been mentioned before, men are victims of stereotypical social, which has been magnified more by anti-male media coverage and media conviction carried out on men. The moment a complaint is filed and even before the results are out, the punishment is levied on the accused male in the social court by the media. Having said that, it is pertinent to mention here that such abuse of men is not a recent phenomenon and discrimination against men, is an age-old phenomenon, and as a cultural and socially acceptable norm. Men have always been treated as the disposable gender by the society, cultures and civilizations, be it sending them to war to die for the country, or burdening them with the responsibilities of the entire family. Women, on the other hand, have had much better chances at getting choices in life, a safer atmosphere and enhanced emotional spaces. Due to this already existing but invisible socio-cultural bias against men, men have always been at the receiving end, and today we are as good as oblivious to the term, “Male Sexuality”, as a result, most men today even, are not aware of their own sexual abuse.

Moreover, due to misandry (hatred of men), men are discouraged from talking about their problems and any man trying to do so is considered weak and easily disposed off by the society, more often than not, only after being humiliated and ridiculed of. This social trend is the biggest impeding factor to men opening up about their abuse. Despite all this, a survey carried out by the Economic Times and the Synovate revealed that more than 55% of men in the corporate world felt that they have been sexually harassed by women and should be provided with protection. The economic times article, is attached as Annexure D.

  1. Recently an employee of IBM Anish Vohra, filed a complaint of sexual harassment against his female boss who was accused of using vulgar language in office while talking to him. And for that, the company forced him to resign and he also faced a lot of financial troubles due to that. This is what the society offers men – when there is a complaint against them, they are fired without verification of the complaint, as we saw in some examples above and when they complain, that time too it’s the men only who are fired from their jobs, once again without verification of the complaint. Women take a lot of advantage of this perverted social mindset and have wreaked havoc in many a men’s lives because of the over-reluctance of the society to punish evil and lying women. The media report of Anish is attached as Annexure E.
  2. Dangers of Gender Bias in laws:
    1. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution clearly enunciates the supreme nature of “Equality before Law” for all citizens. Article 15 emphasizes the significance of “No discrimination on the basis of age, caste, religion or gender.” The above two rights are of supreme nature and cannot be jeopardized under any circumstances. While it might be true that as per Subsection 3 of Article 15, the Govt. of India can form special provisions for women and children, it does not, however, empower the Govt. to form a gender biased law. And any such gender biased law is not only undemocratic but unconstitutional at that too. And merely because we already have gender biased laws, which are completely anti-male in nature, does not mean we keep on adding to the list; the need of the hour is rather, on the contrary, to reform the existing list. The current draft of the Sexual Harassment Bill is also gender biased and anti-male in nature and must not be passed till it is gender neutralized.
    2. One of the biggest problems with gender biased laws is stereotypical assumptions and uncalled for generalizations. The current anti-male laws of India like the Section 498A of the IPC, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, etc. assume all men as criminals from the onset. This assumption plugs the communication channel for men and snatches away their right to prove innocence, as they are presumed “Guilty until Proven Innocent”. This is a very dangerous trend as it has some serious psychological impacts on the targeted individuals – men in this case. Such laws, fueled by anti-male mindsets, create cornering effects in men and often, when pushed to extreme, men may resort to crime to get their voices heard. One of the easiest ways to reduce such crimes is to provide men with a communication channel by way of gender neutral laws which does not carry any preconceived presumption of guilt against any particular gender.
    3. Already, there has been a lot of uproar in the society against Section 498A. Even the Honorable Rajya Sabha had taken up a petition for hearing about the amendments to be made in Section 498A to prevent the harm its current definition and implementation is causing in the society. Various civil society groups, judiciary, police officers, Her Excellency The Honorable President of India Shmt. Pratibha Singh Patil, the ex-CJI of India and many other Govt. offices have voiced their strong opinions about Section 498A being made bailable in order to prevent jailing of innocents. This uproar was the clear consequence of drafting a bad law like Section 498A. If once again, the Govt. of India makes the same mistake by drafting a bad law, then it will lead to another uproar in the society which may lead to a civil strife like situation.
    4. As we have seen examples of celebrity and high-profile men being targeted under this law, if this law is not made gender neutral, then it has a great potential to be used as a conspiracy tool by business and political rivals to “settle” scores. For, once stigmatized, it becomes very difficult for a man to regain the same position and it affects him in every sphere of life. A law must never become a tool for blackmail, but the current implementation of this bill has every chance to be used as a blackmail tool not only by the woman to avoid an otherwise embarrassing situation like an underperformance or a grave mistake in career, but also by competitive men who would like to have a powerful position get vacated by using this law as it happened with the CEO of Hewlett Packard – Mark Hudd.
    5. In today’s IT driven age human capital is by far the most important asset that organization’s have and they are still overwhelmingly male in gender.  It has also been conclusively proven through multiple researches that males in an organization typically work longer hours and on an average shoulder more responsibilities as compared to a female employee of the same grade. In a typical Indian IT company the pressure on a senior Male employee can be phenomenal. In such a scenario, putting a gender-biased and anti-male law like the current Sexual Harassment bill, which can create workplace terror, can be a big blow to the productivity of corporates and in turn, the economy of the country. Even if a single innocent man is trapped in this law and faces adverse circumstances, it will set a fear trend amongst others which can seriously jeopardize workplace harmony directly devouring corporate productivity.
    6. This law is Gender Neutral in most of the countries where it is prevalent. According to a report on Sexual harassment at workplace by United Nations Economic Commission of Europe, around 25 countries in and around Europe and Asia like Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, The Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom have policies for Sexual Harassment, that are gender neutral. TheUSand most countries in ASEAN region also have Gender Neutral laws. Even neighboring Pakistan has Gender Neutral Sexual Harassment policies.
    7. One of the most dangerous provisions of this law is allowing NGOs, committed to the cause of women to intervene into complaints filed by being a part of the committee that would be inquiring into the allegations. Many NGOs operate from a mindset of hatred towards a targeted class of citizens, for e.g. women NGOs, in general, harbor a lot of hatred towards the male gender and allowing them to be a part of the committee is like allowing the sheep to be guarded by the wolves themselves. Moreover, NGOs if included will convert it into an extortion industry and the volume of cases will become a monetary survival instinct for the NGOs. NGOs cannot be given powers of court or investigation authority, for, any such body that has powers of affecting an individual’s life must be thoroughly accountable and NGOs are non-accountable. Hence, this is a very dangerous provision in the bill.
    8. The male gender – men and boys – represent more than 50% of the population and not providing protection to them will result in upsetting more than 50% of the population for the sake of some groups with vested interests and such a trend can be dangerous for any democracy.

Having had a look at the dangers of some of the provisions of this current draft and keeping in mind the larger interest of the society and the workforce, in general, we present the following demands before the Honorable Committee to be considered before formulating any law on these lines:-

  1. The current draft be discarded and a new draft be prepared by the Law Ministry, taking into account the general public opinion.
  2. In the new draft, the bill must be made gender neutral and the word “Woman” be replaced by the word “Person” from all places including the title of the Bill.
  3. Falsely accused person should have the right to pursue action against the complainant.
  4. The new bill must not be exempt from the RTI Act – its subversion of democracy and the constitutional right to information.
  5. Mandatory action must be taken against the complainant where the complaint is found to be frivolous or filed with malicious intent.
  6. There must not be any provision of any kind of remuneration being given to the Committee overseeing the matter or compensation to the complainant to “settle” the matter.
  7. Appointment of Committee chairperson and members must be based on integrity and their judicious approach and not based on their gender.
  8. No NGOs must be allowed to interfere in the proceedings as many operate from a mindset of hatred towards a particular section of the society and can do more harm than justice.

PS: During the discussion some more questions came up. For, which the committee had sent us a separate questionnaire and we had replied back to it. The questionnaire and the reply will be uploaded soon.

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