The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Harassed in office' Clam up

Ahmedabad, Sept. 14: Not a great looker and in her early 30s, Saroj Bhatt had been man enough to tell the world her boss was sexually harassing her.

Initially, the world too had been man enough to sympathise with her and show Rajkot mayor Mansukh Chavda the door. But then it got weak-knee and showed the Gujarat Congress worker the door, too.

Moral of the story: If you are a woman and your boss is a sexual predator, keep your mouth shut, else you'll lose your job.

Most working women in Gujarat appear to have been born cleverer ' at least professionally ' than Saroj. Many are sexually harassed by their bosses ' usually immediate superiors ' and colleagues but don't dare open their mouths.

According to a study conducted by the Ahmedabad Women's Action Group, nearly 61 per cent women in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar face inappropriate behaviour at their work places but 48 per cent choose to clam up.

'Sexual harassment exists in government organisations as well as the private sector but nobody wants to admit it fearing social disgrace or loss of job,' said Ila Pathak, head of the women's group.

Although the nature of the harassment could be psychological, verbal or physical, most victims refrain from lodging complaints, she said. Some tolerate the harassment for as many as 10 years before venturing to speak up.

'They come to us and tell us that they want to lodge a complaint against the person who has harassed them. Some come to us only because their bosses did not take action against the perpetrators,' Pathak added.

One reason was that some men felt women were encroaching on their domains by coming out to work. 'Their sexual behaviour is a reflection of this attitude,' she said.

The Supreme Court had taken a serious view of sexual harassment at the work place in 1997 and directed states to form committees to handle such complaints from working women. But few states, including Gujarat, complied.

After Pathak's group filed a petition in Gujarat High Court alleging such a committee did not exist, the state government was asked to file an affidavit.

On Friday, the government insisted that a committee existed but could not give details.

The court has asked the state to file another affidavit giving the details by tomorrow.

In March 2003, National Commission for Women chief Poornima Advani had asked a government official why the state-level panels had not been set up as directed by the Supreme Court. She was told that three circulars had been issued but no one had responded.

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