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Sexual harassment case in Parliament: woman files a case on supervisor

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ND: For the last six months, a woman working as a cleaner on the premises of the Parliament of India has been trying unsuccessfully to register a complaint of sexual harassment against her supervisor.

The woman, whose name and other identifying details has not disclosed, has been employed since 2011 with BVG India Limited, a private housekeeping service which has been given the contract for the maintenance of several government offices including the Parliament and its allied buildings. In 2013, she began working in the Parliament Annexe building, cleaning bathrooms. In mid-2014, a new site in-charge joined the company and became her supervisor in the Annexe.

Since then, the complainant says, her supervisor would follow her to the bathroom she was working in alone, stare at her and talk in an inappropriate way. Whenever she protested his words or his following her around, he would threaten to have her removed from the job, she told.

On one occasion in December 2014, the complainant asked her supervisor for chemicals to clean the bathroom. “He asked me what I would give him in return. When I told him that I could only return what I had been given to work with, he indicated that there were other things I could give him,” she said. “When I asked him not to talk to me that way, he threatened to have me fired,” she said. On another occasion, the supervisor approached her when she was working alone in a bathroom and passed inappropriate comments about being able to see her body while she was working, the woman said, after which she complained to senior women at her workplace.

At the end of the year, the supervisor confiscated her Parliament entry pass, effectively stopping her entry into her workplace, after which she went to the Connaught Place offices of BVG India and complained about her supervisor. Shortly after, she was transferred to the Lok Sabha. Frustrated and unclear how to make her complaint heard, the woman sent a letter to Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan in the first week of January.

In her new workplace, the woman was frequently taunted about her complaint, she said. In April 2015, BVG officials asked the supervisor to apologise to her and she was told that she would be reinstated in the Parliament annexe. The company told her that it had formed a committee to investigate her complaint, but she was not called before it. 

Finally at the end of April, the woman filed a complaint before the Parliament Street police station. On May 8, the police registered an FIR under section 509 of the IPC which deals with sexual harassment.

The Lok Sabha secretariat has a functioning sexual harassment committee, a member of the committee who asked not to be identified, said. However the committee does not cover contract workers of private companies who work on the premises, the member said. The Hindu contacted the office of the committee’s presiding officer, Joint Secretary, Rashmi Jain, but was not given a response.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising, who has represented victims of sexual harassment and is an expert on the law, told that workers employed by private companies but working on government premises can complain to that government body’s sexual harassment committee; in fact, the responsibility of redressal lies with the government body and not the private company.

The complainant, said she wanted to fight for her rights; however as a badly-off single mother, she remained in fear of losing her job. “Even if a sexual harassment committee exists on paper in Parliament, the fact is that a vulnerable woman with no job security is not getting access to it or protection from it,” her lawyer Monalisa, who runs The Alternative Space, a legal aid organisation, said.

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