Wanted: Gender-neutral laws
If women like Uma Challa had their way, they would change all gender-biased laws that exist in India today, including Section 498A of the IPC or the dowry law.
The draft Bill on Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace may be ready, but some women actually think it is heavily biased against men. If women like Uma Challa had their way, they would change all gender-biased laws that exist in India today, including Section 498A of the IPC or the dowry law. Challa argues that the dowry law is being misused by many women to harass their husbands and in-laws.
Hyderabad-based Challa launched a forum called All India Forgotten Women, under the aegis of Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF) in 2005, in response to the “large-scale arrests of women falsely accused under Section 498A IPC”.
The draft Bill on sexual harassment at the workplace, she says, does not have provisions to protect men from similar harassment at the workplace and it thus undermines the Indian Constitution, which states that men and women have the same right to equality and life.
“The Bill and its architects undermine the basic truth that sexual harassment is neither about sex nor gender. It is about power, and a woman in power can be every bit as abusive as a man,” Challa says.
“The Bill requires that committees for redressing grievances consist of persons ‘committed to the cause of women’. If committees are filled with individuals committed to the cause of women and not to the cause of truth, law and justice, is it hard to foretell the fate of males in an institution or in society as a whole,” she asks.
Challa, who is also president of The All India Men’s Welfare Association, says the Bill contains provisions for ‘conciliation’ and ‘settlement’ between the ‘aggrieved’ woman and the respondent. If ‘conciliation’ happens and ‘settlement’ is arrived at, no further inquiry will be conducted. If, however, the terms and conditions of ‘conciliation’ and ‘settlement’ are not met by the accused, an inquiry will be conducted.
“When sexual harassment at the workplace is considered a grievous crime which warrants a special and stringent law, what is the purpose of having a ‘conciliation’ and ‘settlement’ plan? In what way is this law different from the dowry law, which is being used as a weapon of extortion,” she asks.
She says countries around the world, including the USA, the UK and all member countries of the European Union, have gender-neutral sexual harassment prevention laws. “Even Pakistan, which passed a similar Bill in January 2010, embraced the principle of gender neutrality,” she adds.