Sexual harassment cases have risen among Nifty 50 companies with two-thirds of them disclosing a total 525 complaints in the year ended March, an increase of 26% over the previous year. WiproBSE 1.10 % tops the list with 111 cases, followed by ICICI Bank with 87 and InfosysBSE 0.80 % with 62. Information technology and banking companies, which typically employ more women than others, constitute over 80% of the total.
“This statistic should be an eye-opener for companies which are in denial mode on the incidence of sexual harassment in Indian workplaces,” said Vishal Kedia, founder of Complykaro Services, an adviser on the matter.
A caveat is in order: Higher numbers reported by companies can be a reflection of robust reporting systems put in place by them as prescribed by the law, thereby encouraging employees to report cases of harassment, experts said. Managements are also trying to sensitise employees as to what constitutes sexual harassment, something that’s fraught with cultural and societal taboos in a male-dominated society and therefore vastly under-reported.
“It is still not easy for women to complain about sexual harassment in India,” said Kedia. “In the case of IT companies, a large proportion of complaints could be coming from employees working outside India.”
The number of complaints doubled at TCS and State Bank of India. Tech Mahindra reported 26 cases in FY16, up from zero. IndusInd Bank saw cases rise threefold to 20 from six. Companies that reported zero cases stood at 15, down from 19.
TCS said it has stepped up awareness programmes.
“While there is no exact reason to pinpoint as to why the complaints have gone up, the fact that we have grown as a company and have more people employed with us now and also that we have been undertaking measures to create awareness about sexual harassment seem to have caused more women to report,” a TCS spokesperson said. “We have lots of activities taking place with an intention to increase awareness
“We stand committed to anticipate, monitor and manage such issues with zero tolerance,” Tech Mahindra said in a statement. An IndusInd spokesperson said the total number of cases in FY16 was 14 with complainants numbering 20.
“Of these 14 cases, five were either dismissed by the committee formed under the Vishakha guidelines or were withdrawn by the complainants. The remaining nine cases have been investigated with utmost urgency and dealt with as per guidelines,” the bank said. “The bank has zero tolerance in these matters.”
Cipla also said that it had intensified education to increase awareness among employees and is fully compliant with the law. Wipro said it was in a “silent period” ahead of results and couldn’t comment. ICICI Bank, Infosys and State Bank of India didn’t respond to queries. The degree to which companies have adopted the law varies, with those that already had processes in place ahead of others.
“Post the Act, there was a flurry of companies who took up the formation of internal complaints committees,” said Saundarya Rajesh, founder president, Avtar Group. “There is a lot of action in training both the men and women in POSH (prevention of sexual harassment) to demystify the Act to employees at all levels. Companies are making it into e-learning modules, and often it is part of induction. As a result, the reporting of cases has gone up.”
Experts said an estimated 10-15% of companies generally are still not complying with guidelines and that implementation remains a concern.
Cases reported include propositioning colleagues, harassing junior employees, seeking sexual favours as quid pro quo and creating a hostile work environment involving abusive and derogatory language.
MORE DETAILS NEEDED
Civil liberties lawyer Vrinda Grover said the numbers needed to be broken down into more granular detail.
“This data does not reveal how many complaints companies received from the managerial level staff and those from the shop-floor level,” she said. “The case of the garment manufacturing industry has shown that sexual harassment is routine, especially in case of industries employing a high number of women at the shop-floor level, where vulnerability is the highest.”
She called for an audit on how companies are resolving complaints. “There is no information disclosed by companies on the number of workshops conducted. Besides, we have not seen the government monitoring the compliance of the Act. Local complaints committees are still to be set up in many regions.”
As workers and companies get better educated, complaints will likely rise, said the representative of an NGO working in the area that’s also part of internal complaints committees at some companies.
“We see most large companies complying with the sexual harassment Act and hence we are shifting our focus to small-scale industries,” the person said. “We are currently in the honeymoon phase, involved in conducting first-level awareness sessions rather than investigating cases at companies. Once the sensitisation process is completed in another few months, we expect complaints to be raised.”