‘Set up panel to probe sexual harassment plaints at schools’

Dismisses teacher’s appeal to quash the charges made against him; slams authorities’ attitude

Taking a serious note of the laxity on the part of the management of a government school in Kancheepuram district in initiating action on complaints of sexual harassment against a teacher, the Madras High Court has asked the Director of School Education to take steps to constitute Internal Complaints Committees in all schools.

While hearing a plea moved by a teacher, against whom multiple complaints of sexual harassment were made by a student and fellow woman teachers, the judge underscored the need to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee as per Section 4 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

“The Director of School Education has to issue a circular in this regard to all the institutions for the constitution of an Internal Complaints Committee, so as to conduct inquiry into this kind of allegations,” Justice S.M. Subramaniam said in his order.

As per the charge memo issued against the petitioner S. Rajesh, a Class XII student of the Government Muslim Higher Secondary School, Pattur, Kancheepuram district, lodged a complaint of sexual harassment against the science teacher, following which he was suspended. However, he was subsequently reinstated after the student withdrew her complaint. Inquiries revealed that his female colleagues were also affected.

Serious allegations

The memo alleged that Mr. Rajesh had encouraged students to sing songs teasing a woman teacher, and had called a former headmistress by the name of an actress. “On a perusal of the allegations set out in the charge memo, certainly, they are very serious in nature, and an inquiry has to be conducted in accordance with the law,” the judge observed.

As for the petitioner’s prayer seeking to quash the charge memo, the judge noted that a writ can be issued against the charge memo only under exceptional circumstances and not in a routine manner.

The authorities, in this case, had not taken appropriate action against the petitioner under the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, the judge pointed out, adding that the attitude of the competent authorities was to be deprecated.

“Sexual harassment at the workplace is an extremely sensitive issue. For most, it is a taboo due to the limitations of traditional gender hierarchies,” the judge observed and dismissed the plea.

SOURCE: THE HINDU

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