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Survey slams govt offices on harassment

New Delhi, June 10: An independent review commissioned by the National Human Rights Commission has revealed a shocking nonchalance by government departments towards tackling the problem of sexual harassment at the workplace.

The first step in stopping harassment of women is to sensitise office workers about the new rules of conduct. However, most states have failed to do so, says the review.

Government offices were chosen mainly because the state is primarily responsible for the protection of women at work. The object of the survey was to find out if government employees themselves were aware of the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court to prevent sexual harassment at workplace and action taken so far to make offices safe for women.

“The violations of these (guidelines) at state-level departments has become an issue of equal if not more serious concern,” the the human rights commission said in introductory parts in the report.

Surveys were carried out in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. Most of the data from Bengal is not yet available.

Few state governments have worked seriously in promoting awareness of the new rules. Of the 99 state and district level departments surveyed, 40 per cent said they had heard of the guidelines, while 59 per cent said they had not received any government order.

The level of awareness seems to decline the further the office is from the state capital. In the Uttar Pradesh capital of Lucknow, 87 per cent of the departments knew that rules to help women had been formulated. But in distant Shaharanpur, only 14 per cent of the employees were aware of the rules.

In Orissa, only 14 per cent — four out of 29 government departments selected for the survey in the districts — knew about the rules. The remaining 25 departments (86 per cent) were unaware.

Of the 45 departments surveyed, just 21 (47 per cent) had been told of the circulars while 24 (53 per cent) government departments had not bothered to even send circulars about the new rules.

In Bihar, 11 departments were surveyed in the capital Patna. Just four (36 per cent) departments had informed the employees of the Supreme Court guidelines. Women employees in the remaining seven (63 per cent) departments did not know about their rights.

In Tamil Nadu, governed by a woman chief minister as in Bihar, 40 per cent of government departments had informed their workforce about the new rules. But 59 per cent had no idea that sexual harassment of women in the work place was not permitted.

Although the Supreme Court judgment was made in 1977, government departments came to know about it much later.

In Lucknow, out of the 13 departments which were aware of the guidelines, just 54 per cent had received the orders in 1999, 38 per cent received it in 2002 and one per cent this year.

In Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, of the five departments to have received the information, three had been notified in 1998, two in 2001 and one in 2002. In Patna, of the four government offices to be notified, one was informed in 2001 and another in 2002 while the other two departments could not state the year they had been notified.

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