In India, Even Women Employed by Central Ministries Aren’t Safe From Sexual Harassment

An employee of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India – affiliated to the health  ministry – was sexually harassed for an extended period of time by a senior official, who has gone entirely unpunished.

Women protest against sexual violence and harassment in Delhi. Representational image. Credit: Reuters/Files

New Delhi: In 2012, a female employee of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) – which falls under the purview of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare – was sexually harassed by a senior officer (a director) repeatedly.

A complaint was filed by the victim’s family in 2013, addressed to the chairperson of the FSSAI. When the complaint was made, the organisation, which is affiliated to a central ministry, did not have an internal complaints committee (ICC) – as is required by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 – to enquire into the matter. The ICC report dated June 2015, a copy of which The Wire has, admits to this fact, stating that the complaint filed in 2013 was received by the presiding officer of the ICC only in December 2014. Thereafter, the ICC was quick with its enquiry.

The victim was kept under duress for an extended period of time, with the director making unwelcome advances and demanding sexual favours in exchange for which he offered to use his influence to advance her career.

Despite the victim’s repeated refusals, he continued to harass her for several months. The ICC report lists, in sickening detail, the several ways in which the director misused his power over the victim.  As per the 2013 Act, sexual harassment includes “physical contact and advances; a demand or request for sexual favours; sexually coloured remarks; showing pornography; any other unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature”. From the victim’s testimony recorded in the ICC report, it would appear that the director was guilty of all, except “showing pornography”.

The persistent harassment led to the victim growing more intimidated by the day, which affected her mental health. She was pressured into inappropriate conversation and forced to live in fear. Drawing from the letter written by her family, the ICC report said she “faced him with calmness and after this, tried her best to escape him, but he kept reminding her that she was made the Designated Officer due to him and if she listened to him she would rule.”

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