The Catholic Church in India is seriously concerned about the increasing violence against women and girl children in Indian society. The CBCI acknowledges and considers violence against women and children as a special area of concern. It acknowledges the Sexual harassment as a violation of right of women to equality under Articles 14, 15, 21 and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India. In order to make them safe in Catholic Institutions the CBCI has set guidelines against Sexual Harassment at Workplace. Every Catholic Institution should constitute an Internal Complaint Committee (ICC). At Diocese level, a Diocese Complaint Committee (DCC) and at Province level a Province Complaint Committee (PCC).
According to the Guidelines, “Sexual Harassment” means and includes any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It includes unwelcome, severe and persistent sexual conduct which creates and uncomfortable and hostile environment. It can be done by remarks, gestures or behaviour. Remarks would include allusions of sexual preferences, jokes, blackmail, threats, comments on appearances or body, intimate reference, obscene language, sexual innuendoes etc. Gestures and behaviour would include caresses, fondling, indiscrete glances, kissing, obscene gestures, pinching, unsolicited advances, etc.
It is the responsibility of every institution to create a harmonious working environment free of intimidation, hostility etc., to ensure only eligible well reputed and morally upright persons are recruited and appointed, to communicate the zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment at workplace, to organise awareness program and training on the said policy and on social and moral behaviours expected of them etc., to display at a conspicuous place in the workplace availability of Internal Committee to address the grievance if any, to ensure abuse of authority is promptly addressed, to ensure confidentiality of the matter and no employee is retaliated against.
Authorities should ensure every institution including a Province or Diocese constitute a committee to deal with sexual harassment within 60 days from the date of publication of the guidelines. . Every institution working in the diocese which has 10 or more employees should constitute an “Internal Complaints Committee” (ICC).
The authorities should provide necessary facilities to the ICC, assist in securing the attendance of Respondent and Witnesses for ICC, educate the ICC the procedure etc., monitor the timely submission of reports by ICC, organise workshops and awareness program at regular intervals for sensitizing the employees about the guidelines etc.
Composition of internal Complaints Committee (ICC):
There should be a Chairperson/Presiding Officer, who must be a woman employed at a senior position in the institution. If there is no senior woman employee in the institution, the authority can get the services of a woman employee from another institution working under the same Diocese or Province. Then not less than two members from employees should be selected who are committed to the cause of women and have experience in social work or legal knowledge. One member should be from the Non-Governmental Organisation. However half of the Committee should comprise of women.
In case an institution with less than 10 employees, complaint should be filed to the Diocesan Committee or Provincial Committee as the case may be. If there is a complaint against the head of the institution like Manager, H.M, Director, Principal etc., the victim should complain to the Diocesan or Provincial Committee.
CBCI also upholds the dignity of third gender. The Guidelines state if the victim is a third gender, The Committee should have preferably a person from third gender as the Chairperson, if not a woman.
Composition of Diocese/Province Complaint Committee (D/PCC)
A Chairperson shall be appointed by the Diocese/ the Provincial. Chairperson should be a woman, who is well versed in human rights and gender equality issues, with the knowledge of the due process of law and investigation, and with good reputation. One Member shall be from the Employees, one Member from the institutional level Executive body, and one member from an NGO. Two members shall be nominated by the Bishop/Provincial from a panel of experts well versed in human rights and gender equality issues. However the Committee should consist of five members including the Chairperson as one among the above will be selected as the secretary of the Committee.
In the procedures, provision is given for mediation and settlement. If the parties have arrived at a settlement the Committee (ICC) shall record the settlement and make recommendations for the institution to take appropriate action. If the preliminary investigation indicates that no harassment at workplace has occurred, the Chairperson will recommend that the case be closed and appropriate action be taken against the complainant. If the Committee is satisfied that there is an offence of sexual harassment against the woman, Committee proceeds with the legal procedure
If the matter is very grave ICC should suggest to the respective Diocese or Province to take interim measures especially where separation of the respondent and the complainant on a temporary basis or any such act is required.
If any party is aggrieved by the action/report/Order of the ICC can appeal before the Diocesan or Provincial Committee.
“The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was passed by the Government of India in 2013. It came into force on 23rd April 2013. The primary objective of the Act is to protect women from Sexual Harassment. It is said, an Act to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment against women. The Act is passed recognising the women’s right to live with human dignity and against sexual harassment in accordance with conventions and instruments such a Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, which has been ratified on the 25th June, 1993 by the Government of India.
However CBCI has developed a policy based on the teachings of the Bible “There is no male and female, for all are one in Jesus Christ” (Gal3:28). Therefore the Policy urges every Catholic Institution to protect not only women but men victims too. Hence it calls upon the institutions to form two Internal Committees, one to protect women victims and another to protect men victims. If a woman is the victim, the Committee should comprise half of its Members women and the Chairperson must be a woman too. If the man is the victim the Committee should comprise half of its Members men and the Chairperson must be a man.
In the ‘Act’ respondent means a person against whom the aggrieved woman has made a complaint, it means a man; whereas in CBCI Policy, respondent can be either man or woman.
Sexual abuses often occur in contexts in which the abuser is in a position of trust in relation to the person abused. Sexual abuse can also take place in the context of spiritual or psychological guidance or services. Very often it is an abuse of power, abuse of authority.
Most of the Managers and Principals in Catholic Institutions in India are men. Undisputedly they hold power and undue influence. CBCI has taken all precaution to protect them from allegations of sexual harassment providing provision for a Committee where they can protect themselves.
Though we appreciate the sense of equality, women have apprehension that providing provision for the protection of men against sexual harassment may lead to abuse of power and authority to victimise the women employees. Other fear is that this provision could be used by a man against a woman if she fails to appease him. This provision could also be used as a strong weapon against women employees for their termination, transfer and any such act on bias or their failure to appease the man who is in authority or is capable of using his undue influence.
Any of the act given in the definition under the ‘Act’ is done against a woman, it is sexual harassment. As CBCI bring both and men and women under the policy it is difficult to assess what is unwelcome sexual advances against a man by a woman and how a comment on appearances of man can become sexual harassment against men.
It is to be noted that if a woman victim feels she will not get justice she can directly lodge a complaint with the Police according to the ‘Act’.
Above said Committees are to protect women working in institutions. We have women including nuns working in parishes, either engaged in church duty or parish duty or teaching in Sunday schools etc. I feel they also should be protected. Even women laity coming to church should be protected. For this either we may have a Committee in every parish or they should be permitted to complain directly to the Diocese Committee.
However no innocent should be punished and no guilty should go unpunished.
(The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer and former member of the National Commission For Minority Educational Institutions, Govt of India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Published on 03rd October 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 40)