NAC frowns on bill blow to maids

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By BASANT KUMAR MOHANTY
  • Published 11.01.11
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New Delhi, Jan. 10: The National Advisory Council, headed by Sonia Gandhi, today disapproved the exclusion of domestic workers from the purview of a proposed law for protection of women against sexual harassment at workplaces.

The bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha during the winter session, aims to prevent harassment of women at the workplace by implied or overt promise of preferential treatment or threat or interference in work through intimidation.

The NAC, which discussed the bill today, felt that exclusion of domestic workers from the ambit of the bill enhances their vulnerability and denies them protection from abuse.

“Most domestic workers are poor, illiterate, unskilled, and come from vulnerable communities and backward areas. They are underpaid and ill-treated as domestic work is undervalued and poorly regulated. Their workplace being the confines of private homes, domestic workers, especially live-in workers, are prone to sexual harassment and abuse without access to any complaint mechanism or remedial measures,” a statement issued by the NAC said.

The proposed law mandates the setting up of an internal committee by a company or any other institute to probe a written complaint by an aggrieved person or provides for settling the matter through conciliation.

In the case of a false or malicious complaint, the bill provides for action against the complainant in accordance with service rules and in any other manner in case no service rules exist. The “malicious intent or falsehood” on part of the complainant shall be established after an inquiry in accordance with procedure prescribed before any action is recommended, says the bill.

The NAC felt that such provision for punishment for “false or malicious” complaints might deter victims from seeking protection under the proposed law. It recommended removal of this provision from the bill.

“Given the fear of reprisal, which routinely prevents women from coming forward to seek protection against sexual harassment at the work place, the safeguards provided to them by this bill are weakened by the inclusion of clause 14 (punishment for false or malicious complaint and false evidence), which might deter victims from seeking protection of the proposed legislation,” said the statement.

The NAC also decided to constitute a working group to evolve an integrated and holistic approach to provide safeguards to domestic workers.

The NAC also discussed the proposed national food security bill. It will prepare a detailed note on the bill, which will be discussed at its next meeting on January 21.

Last October, the NAC had recommended that the proposed national food security bill should legally guarantee 75 per cent of the population — 90 per cent in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas — subsidised food grain by 2014.