Already grappling with paucity of platforms to register their grievances in the valley, Kashmiri women are now predicting more inconvenient time in the men-dominated workplaces following new amendments in retirement rules.
By Bisma Bhat
FEAR has gripped many women government employees, after the Jammu and Kashmir administration passed new amendment in the retire policy of government employees, as they suspect that the law might increase vulnerability of sexual abuse and harassment in the male-dominated offices.
The administration on October 22 introduced certain substitutes in 226(2) Article of the Jammu and Kashmir Civil Service Regulations.
The Finance department issued notification stating that in exercise of powers conferred under provision to Article 309 of Indian Constitution, Lieutenant Governor has directed that Article 226(2) of the Jammu and Kashmir Civil Service Regulations may be substituted as "226 (2): (a) Notwithstanding anything contained in these Regulations, government may, if it is of the opinion that in the public interest to do so, require any government employee other than one working on a post which is included in Schedule II of these rules, to retire at any time after he/she has completed 22 years of qualifying service or on attained 48 years of age.
It stated that “the exercise of review of performance of the government servants will be initiated for each employee for the first time after her/his completion of 22 years of service or attaining 48 years of age and any time subsequently, as may be required”.
The notification further states that a register of the government employees, who are due to attain the age of 48 years or to complete 22 years of service, has to be maintained by the administrative department.
The register should be “scrutinised” at the beginning of every year by officers to be nominated by the administrative department concerned and the review be undertaken as mentioned in sub-clause (b), the notification read.
Taranum (name changed) working at one of the prominent government hospitals in Srinagar feels very insecure in the office whenever she had night duties.
In February this year, while doing a graveyard shift at the hospital, she approached the store-keeper for blanket. Instead he offered her a cup of tea and said, “Hot cup of tea will make you hot.”
“I understood his intentions were not good,” Taranum recalled. “I was really scared and dumb-stuck how to react on this. I left the place without taking the blanket and preferred to spend the night in cold. Next day I shared the incident with my female colleagues who consoled me, but I did not dare to report it and buried the incident in my heart,” she said.
She believes that giving men authority to write performance report every year will give them enough chance to blackmail women for sexual favours.
Another nurse, Maryam Wani (name changed) said that last year when the winter was approaching she wanted to avail hostel facility to avoid inconvenience prevailing in winters as she had to come from far-flung village.
“I have to travel from Mattan area of Anantnag District, so I thought to prefer hostel facility during winter months to avoid regular travelling. I approached the concerned authority to book rooms in hostel. A man accompanied me to check the rooms available. When I asked him the hostel fee, he replied ‘Aap kaho toa sab free kara do aapkay liye’ (If you wish I will avail it free for you). He wanted some kind of favour in return,” Wani recollected.
Later, Wani did not avail hostel facility and preferred to travel to hospital from her home in Anantnag every day.
“I won’t say every man out there carries bad intentions for girls but yes I won’t also deny that women are not comfortable in men-dominated workplaces. They are being exploited and abused everywhere. New amendments in the retirement rules will give men enough chances to exploit women. It can increase sexual violence against women,” Wani added.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“POSH Act”) was enacted to provide a safe, secure and enabling environment, free from sexual harassment to every woman.
Under the POSH Act, it is mandatory that every office, government or private, should have internal Complaint Committee (ICC), a body envisaged to receive complaints on sexual harassment at the workplace from an aggrieved woman, as well as to inquire into and make recommendations to the concerned authority on the action required pursuant to its inquiry of such complaint made.
However, Wani said that there is no such committee in her office where women can lodge complaints against the sexual harassment.
According to the women’s right activist, Ezabir Ali, women throughout Kashmir face various kinds of violence which include sexual abuse and exploitation in public places, offices, educational institutions and even homes, despite the fact that there’re various acts enacted which govern women right but due to sorry state of affairs it is not been implemented anywhere.
“With the introduction of these amendments women will definitely be exposed to exploitation and abuses at workplaces and the vulnerability of violence against women will definitely increase,” Ali said.
In past, she said, on the basis of reports that women face sexual abuses at workplaces, government ordered constitution of Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) to provide support to the working women but we would hardly see such establishment in government offices.
“In most of the cases, the predator would be the immediate bosses who would ask sexual favours from the women employee. These amendments will give men chance to use it for their personal benefits,” Ali informed.
Giving the overlook of infrastructure, Ali said that women who face violence at workplaces have no place to go as State Women Commission has been already abolished after the Article 370 abrogation and there is only one women police station working in the entire Kashmir to address women-related issue, besides there’re no destitute homes for such women.
“Even if women managed to reach the women police station in Srinagar, you don’t know how gender sensitive the police station is? The police station has been in bad news in the sense that they are not women friendly. People over there are not helpful and accommodative towards victims, who have gathered lots of courage to break their silence and reach there for help to report their atrocities. We have very less infrastructure in place to address crime related women,” Ali said, adding that policymakers should reconsider these amendments.
A female government employee working in male-dominated department in Srinagar said on the condition of anonymity that females are trolled for everything at their workplace.
“Men feel inferiority complex when a women is progressive and they cannot bear that a women will rise above them,” she said.
“They will definitely place some hurdles in your way. When you are in a place where you are surrounded by opposite gender, you will be noticed for everything. Be it your clothes, your behaviour, people will notice your actions. Women are not comfortable or safe in a male-dominated workplace keeping in mind there’re no rules and regulations in place that will restrict men to exploit women.”
She added that by bringing new amendment in retirement policy, government will expose women to sexual abuse, giving men enough chances to blackmail women for sexual favours.
A post-graduate medical student at one of the reputed medical colleges of the valley had faced similar abuse in the hands of her immediate boss.
“During my post-graduation days, I was doing research under one of the professors who repeatedly sought favours from students. I had received many calls and messages from him but I repeatedly resisted his advances. I could not dare to report it because I suspected that the person will not entertain my research if I will go against him,” she recalled adding that men always tries to find weakness to exploit women.
“I think these amendments will increase women’s vulnerabilities because again when the immediate bosses of women employee will have to write performance report of any women, he might ask favours from them,” she said.
Social worker and researcher, Essar Batool opine that workplace is vulnerable place for women if she is not in a position of power and introduction of these amendments will add to the avenues for exploitation of a women for sexual favours because you can just withhold the report or write bad remarks in the performance appraisals in private institution as well and they could very well be used as weapon against the women to have them agree to certain favours or to harass them into submission.
“There was this incident some years back in HDFC bank where a woman was allegedly harassed by her superior and later she committed suicide and no one knows what happened to that case. Just look at the mechanism put in place to readdress such issues. It does not even exist on the ground,” Batool noted.
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