Gross negligence on the part of the Tirunelveli district administration to set up an internal complaints committee (ICC) at the district collector’s office to handle complaints of sexual harassment by women employees, made a single mother lose her job when she openly spoke against her superior officer, a tahsildar, for misbehaving with her.
M Saranya (25), mother of two children, is separated from her husband with whom a divorce case is pending. She has been working as a temporary employee in the disaster management department at the Tirunelveli district collector’s office since 2015.
Saranya said she was subjected to dowry harassment at the hands of her husband and in-laws and attempted self-immolation to escape from their torture. She was saved, but became disabled in the suicide attempt and got the job on compassionate grounds three years ago.
Her woes, however, did not end as she had to face sexual harassment from her immediate superior officer, the tahsildar of the disaster management department. “He made me to stay in the evenings after regular office hours and behaved in an uncivilized manner,” complained Saranya, who added that the tahsildar even compelled her to come to the office on weekends when “he touched me inappropriately and made sexual remarks”.
Unable to bear the sexual harassment, Saranya lodged a complaint with Tirunelveli district revenue officer P Muthuramalingam a few weeks ago. However, as it did not work out, Saranya approached district collector Shilpa Prabakar Satish, hoping that she too being a woman, would help her out. “I failed as the district collector told me that she could do nothing in the issue,” regretted Saranya, who added that the collector directed her to the city police commissioner.
“My complaint to the city police commissioner also was in vain, and hence as a last resort, I sought the help of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA, affiliated to the CPI-M),” said Saranya.
The result, however, was detrimental and another person was appointed in her place in the disaster management department at the Tirunelveli district collector’s office.
Now, The AIDWA has taken up the issue, said Tirunelveli district secretary of the women’s body, P Karpagam, who met the district collector on Tuesday and represented the issue.
“We have sent complaint petitions to the Chief Minister’s cell,” said the AIDWA district secretary, adding, “Saranya’s problem is not an isolated incident. Many such women employees in government and private establishments in the district are undergoing harassment and are unable to fight it out.”
Kar pagam charged the Tirunelveli district administration with defiance of the Sexual Harassment at the work place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, by not constituting the internal complaints committee (ICC) for women employees to lodge their complaints about sexual exploitation by higher officials.
It is the statutory responsibility of the district collector as the head of the district collector’s office premises to display conspicuously the penal consequences of indulging in acts that may constitute sexual harassment and the
composition of the internal complaints committee. “But nowhere in the collectorate premises could we see such a display,” said Karpagam, adding, AIDWA would pursue the issue until Saranya got justice.