Abha Singh, eminent lawyer and activist, was recently invited to Columbia University, New York, to speak on #MeToo and beyond: making women safe at the workplace. To take the cause forward, she held a round table discussion at Fab Café Mumbai on sexual harassment in corporates with various women holding prominent positions in the corporate world. Also present was Frederic Simon, Director of Alliance Francaise. They spent the evening discussing the implementation of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act, 2013 in companies.
Pertinent issues were raised such as the absence of internal complaints committees in many companies, which is in violation of the law. Problems with the POSH Act, 2013 were also discussed. Section 26 of the Act provides a fine of Rs. 50,000 for non-compliance. For large corporates with huge sums of money at stake, they prefer to pay the fine than ensure compliance. Therefore, a more stringent penalty is required such as imprisonment. Section 27 also makes the offence non-cognisable, taking away powers of a police officer to arrest without a warrant. These provisions dilute the effectiveness of the law.
The objective of the discussion was twofold. One, to get corporates to pledge for equality in furtherance of Rann Samar’s #hervoicematters campaign and two, to conduct a POSH audit for corporate firms in order to ensure cases such highlighted by the #metoo are prevented. Actress Madhoo Shah was present to lend her voice for the event. She stated that in order to attain true gender equality, a woman should be empowered in whatever she chooses to do, be it films, law or housework.
The millennial perspective was represented by Isha Singh, a budding lawyer from National Law School, Bangalore. She said millennials today refused to be silent or afraid. Instead, they choose to put their faith in the law and hope that the legal system will do them justice. Leading gynecologist Dr. Vandana Walvekar highlighted the need for a behavioural change required in society to empower women to file complaints and stay strong in the face of criticism. Legendary journalist Olga Tellis, who has been in the field for over fifty years, said that while she was the only woman when she started out, men had been extremely helpful towards her and she never faced harassment of any kind. The problem of false cases was highlighted by one of the participants. Around 12-15% of the cases filed are usually false and thus, such women must be punished as well was the opinion of select few.
Sapna Sarfare from the media said that women must not remain silent any more. The time has come for them to speak up against any form of harassment at the workplace and home.
On a closing note Advocate Aditya Pratap stressed the need for thorough training and sensitivity required on the part of members of the Internal Complaints Committees. They should be able to peruse and examine each case with a judicial mind in order to appreciate the evidence and points of law involved. Aditya Pratap further stressed the need to impose criminal penalties upon directors and officers-in-charge of the company violating POSH and amend the law to that effect.