Indian bosses face pressure as #MeToo drive grows

Journalist Sandhya Menon (left) and actress Tanushree Dutta speaking about sexual harassment at a conference titled We The Women. Ms Dutta recently accused actor Nana Patekar of behaving inappropriately on the set of a film they were shooting in 2008
Journalist Sandhya Menon (left) and actress Tanushree Dutta speaking about sexual harassment at a conference titled We The Women. Ms Dutta recently accused actor Nana Patekar of behaving inappropriately on the set of a film they were shooting in 2008. He has denied any wrongdoing.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Politicians, women's groups call for companies to strictly enforce laws on sexual harassment in the workplace

NEW DELHI • Pressure is building on major Indian employers to take allegations of sexual harassment more seriously after a surge in the number of complaints against prominent public figures in the past week.

At least one major Indian newspaper, some politicians and women's groups have said that the requirements of the 2013 Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act need to be enforced by companies and organisations, and if necessary, by the authorities.

The #MeToo movement, which began in the United States more than a year ago with decades of allegations of sexual harassment against film producer Harvey Weinstein, gained traction in India late last month after actress Tanushree Dutta said prominent actor Nana Patekar behaved inappropriately on the set of a film they were shooting in 2008. Mr Patekar has denied any wrongdoing.

Since then, more than a dozen men in the media, entertainment, arts and political worlds have been accused of offences, ranging from sexual harassment to rape.

India is traditionally a conservative country where discussions about sex are still taboo for many, and where women have long lagged behind men in workplace participation.

Hundreds of millions of Indians also work in the informal economy, or in small businesses, where official channels of complaint are scarce and the #MeToo movement will have little leverage.

The sexual harassment law stipulates that any organisation with more than 10 employees should have an independent committee to investigate allegations.

 
 
 

But critics say many organisations are not adhering to the letter of the law or only paying lip service to it. "The committees required to address these complaints and grievances are either not properly constituted or simply do not exist," said Ms T.K. Rajalakshmi, president of the Indian Women's Press Corps, which lobbies for the rights of female journalists.

"The fact that many of the complaints have gone unheard, despite being brought to the notice of the appropriate authorities, is disturbing and a matter of grave concern."

An editorial in The Economic Times, one of India's leading business publications, said on Tuesday that too often, these committees have been "dysfunctional or ineffective".

"The cost of complaining has been too high," the editorial said. "It is time to implement the law more effectively, both in letter and in spirit."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2018, with the headline 'Indian bosses face pressure as #MeToo drive grows'. Print Edition | Subscribe