The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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SC notices on harassment

New Delhi, March 26: The Supreme Court today issued notices to several professional bodies, including the University Grants Commission, the Bar Council of India and the Medical Council of India, to stem sexual harassment in educational institutions and professional places.

A division bench of Justice Rajendra Babu and Justice G.P. Mathur gave them six weeks to submit their responses detailing steps taken to curtail sexual harassment as per an earlier set of guidelines of the court.

The bench heard Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee, who suggested that the court’s earlier guidelines be extended to all professional bodies and almost all workplaces.

On August 13, 1997, a bench of then Chief Justice J.S. Varma had framed a set of guidelines to tackle sexual harassment and directed that all managements, administrations and governments should constitute complaint committees and treat a complaint of sexual harassment on an emergent basis.

Justice Varma had ruled that use of “suggestive language”, despite absence of “bodily contact”, while interacting with a colleague in an office or a similar place and showing pornographic material, suggestive photographs, printed or otherwise, to a woman would constitute the offence of sexual harassment.

The apex court guidelines had also stated that the complaint committees should be headed by women, who would also be the majority. However, several states have not constituted a committee yet.

Today’s notices — also issued to the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India and the All India Council of Technical Education — came on a petition by a teacher, Medha Kotwal Lele, who alleged that she was a victim of sexual harassment in her place of work.

The petitioner’s counsel Colin Gonsalves contended that the 1997 guidelines of the apex court needed “fine-tuning” so that they could be implemented across the country in all states and Union Territories. Sorabjee agreed with this proposal.

Gonsalves also said all states should be given a showcause notice as to why the complaint committees were not formed.

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