Sexual harassment of women in workplaces

Sexual harassment affects women in all spaces of their existence. Working women are no exception. Working women most commonly face the backlash to women taking on new roles, which have always belonged to male domains within a patriarchal system. Sexual harassment at work is an extension of violence in everyday life; it is discriminatory and exploitative, and thrives in atmosphere of threat, terror and reprisal.

The issue of the famed Vishaka guidelines in 1997 was a landmark step for the abolition of sexual assault on women in workplaces in India.  In the Vishaka and others vs. The State of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court took upon itself to form the guidelines following the writ petition filed after an alleged brutal gang rape of a social worker in a village in Rajasthan. The guidelines apply to both organized and unorganized work sectors and to all women whether working part time, on contract or in voluntary/honorary capacity. Although judgment was delivered in 1997, along with the guidelines, for six years after that no efforts were made in the direction of enacting a law. So the guidelines continued to be the law required to be followed across the country. But the guidelines were followed more in the breach. Very few complaints committees were set up, service rules were not amended as required, and the judgment was widely disregarded both by public and private employers. Around the same time many women who were being sexually harassed started breaking their silence, demanding action from their employers. The media also started giving significant space and time to this issue.sexual-harassment

The World Health Organization has reported that up to 70% of female murder victims are killed by their male partners. In India, surveys conducted by the National Crime Records Bureau say that 45% of women are experiencing physical or psychological violence everyday. A survey conducted for the National Commission for Women found that nearly 50% had experienced gender discrimination at work. Yet, 85% of them had never heard of the existence of any law against sexual harassment.

Studies find that sexual harassment is still endemic, often hidden, and present in all kinds of organisations. Yet it is still not viewed as a problem which needs to be systematically tackled. The issue is of concern to both women and the employers as studies show that sexual harassment touches the lives of nearly 40-60% of working women.

Neeta Raymond, in her book “Combat Law”, says,”Supreme Court’s judgment in Visakha’s case is a landmark for more than one reason. Not only was sexual harassment at the workplace recognized under the Indian jurisprudence as a crucial problem faced by women workers, it also set out detailed guidelines for prevention and redressal of this malaise. In doing so, the Supreme Court did not merely confine itself to interpreting the law but went into the legislative exercise of law making. The Court travelled beyond its traditional confines of being the interpretative organ of laws and went into the terrain of law making which it has historically shied away from.”

Despite an ostensible acceptance of gender equality and a plethora of laws, violence against women is still a reality with drastic consequences. While the apex Court has given mandatory guidelines for resolution and prevention of sexual harassment, enjoining employers by holding them responsible for providing a safe work environment for women, the issue still remains under the carpet for most women and their employers.

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Anusha Surendran

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 3:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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They form the single biggest mass of refugees in the world today. Stuck between two political giants and their allies, they face an uncertain future,. These people do not have an identity or a homeland to call their own. Around 300,000 Tamils were displaced as a result of the civil war between the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which ended in a complete rout for the latter. Six months after the end of the war, nearly 300,000 ethnic Tamils are held in military-run camps in Sri Lanka where their movements are restricted and impending monsoon rains could create health crises.

The death of Prabhakaran, supreme commander of the LTTE, has led to celebrations throughout Sri Lanka over the end of a 25-year war that has claimed a large number of innocent lives, Tamil and Sinhalese. The international community has expressed concern over the condition of refugees held in Sri Lanka. The United States has called on the Sri Lankan government to allow Tamil refugees displaced by recent hostilities to move about freely in the country. New York-based Human Rights Watch has urged international leaders to raise the issue with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake when he participates in forthcoming sessions of the UN General Assembly.

Assistant US Secretary of State Robert Blake, who is focussed on US relations with central and southern Asia, said, “While the Sri Lankan government has made some progress easing camp congestion, registering IDPs, and expanding access by humanitarian organizations, much remains to be done.”

In order to reach a lasting peace, the Sri Lankan government must promote justice and political reconciliation for all parties and dialogue with all parties, including Tamils inside and outside Sri Lanka, on new mechanisms for devolving power.

The Sri Lankan government, widely criticized for holding refugees indefinitely, insists that it needs time to weed out LTTE fighters hiding among the displaced civilians.

Around 12.6 percent of the island’s 20 million inhabitants are of Tamil descent.

The United Nations has estimated that up to 7,000 civilians may have perished in the first few months of this year when government troops escalated their offensive against the remnants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Sri Lanka has assured a team of 10 MPs from Tamil Nadu that 58,000 Sri Lankan Tamils currently staying in fenced-off camps will be taken back to their homes from October 15th, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said.

According to ‘Lankaweb’, the Sri Lankan government claims that 45000 Tamils have been sent to their homes after demining Mannar and Jafna Districts and after having their houses rebuilt or renovated and approved for habitation.  Another 15,900 over-65 seniors and pregnant mothers have been re-united with their families as per their wishes; and the elderly, who had no family to go to, have been assigned to institutional care. A batch of 144 Tamil Tiger child soldiers were rehabilitated at the Punthottam Child Protection and Rehabilitation Center in Vavuniya and admitted to a leading school in the capital Colombo on October 21, to pursue their education and start a new life as ordinary children.

While different sources offer various versions of the displacement programme, it is vital to understand that the people sandwiched in between these ‘talks’ are the innocent Tamil refugees who do not have a voice to express their fear or defamed status. Hopefully, pressure from the international community and superpowers will pave the way for Sri Lankan and Indian governments respond to the dire situation of these innocent Tamils and provide them with an identity which is their due.

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Anusha Surendran

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 2:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Fall of the LTTE

ltte April 2009 saw the fall of one of the biggest Separatist organizations of all times, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, commonly known as LTTE. LTTE is an organization that has fought for a separate Tamil state for the Sri Lankan Tamils since 1976. The organization headed by Prabhakaran has waged many battles with the Sri Lankan government to win a rightful place for the Sri Lankan Tamils who have considered the place as their hometown.

After two decades of fighting and three failed attempts at peace talks, including the unsuccessful deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) from 1987 to 1990, a lasting negotiated settlement to the conflict appeared possible when a cease-fire was declared in December 2001, followed by a Ceasefire Agreement signed in 2002 with the help of international mediators. However, limited skirmishes resumed in late 2005. In November 2005, Mahinda Rajapaksa of the Sri Lankan Freedom Party became the Prime Minister with the declared objective of liquidating the LTTE. Prabakaran not only ignored this but, on the basis of some convoluted reasoning, enforced a boycott of the Presidential poll in areas under LTTE control. This action prevented a bulk of the Tamils from voting for Wickremesinghe, rival of Rajapaksa. This enabled Rajapaksa’s victory with a wafer-thin majority through Southern Sinhala votes. And the newly elected President went about systematically dismantling the LTTE. The conflict began to escalate until the government launched a number of major military offensives against the LTTE beginning in July 2006.


Together: Prabhakaran and Karuna

One of Prabhakran’s grave mistake was not factoring the impact of the defection of Karuna, his able military commander from Batticaloa, on the LTTE’s overall military capability., Prabakaran never made any effort to patch up with Karuna, who had grievances with respect to the poor representation of easterners in the leadership although they provided the bulk of the LTTE cadre. Instead, he dispatched killers to eliminate Karuna. The rebel leader commanded wide support among cadre in the east, particularly around LTTE strongholds in Batticaloa. A direct consequence of his defection was the disbanding of a bulk of LTTE cadre, other than Karuna’s core supporters. It also drove Karuna into the arms of the Sri Lanka Army for protection. So when the war started in the east, the LTTE’s strength as well as its manoeuvring space was reduced, driving the LTTE out of the entire Eastern province of the island. The LTTE then declared they would “resume their freedom struggle to achieve statehood.”


In 2007, the government shifted its offensive to the north of the country and formally announced its withdrawal from the ceasefire agreement on January 2, 2008, alleging that the LTTE violated the agreement over 10,000 times. Since then, aided by the destruction of a number of large arms smuggling vessels that belonged to the LTTE and an international crackdown on funding for the Tamil Tigers, the government took control of the entire area previously controlled by the Tamil Tigers, including their de-facto capital Kilinochchi and main military base Mullaitivu, leading the LTTE to finally admit defeat on May 17, 2009.

Hars V. Pant, a research scholar of the Defence Studies department at King’s College, London wrote recently that “The rising global abhorrence of political violence post-9/11, the drying up of support from the Tamil diaspora, as well as Colombo’s success in courting China and Pakistan to strengthen its military capabilities enabled the Sri Lankan government to turn the long-running battle in its favour.’’

The organization that started out as a small defensive group has now grown into an organized guerilla group that has acquired tremendous military capacity. But its noble cause was overshadowed by its fascist approach. While none questioned Prabhakaran’s commitment to ‘Tamil Eelam’, his practice of the politics of assassination, together with the impression that he wanted the international community to engage him on his own terms rather than under any mutually acceptable framework, ultimately proved to be his undoing. The loss of international support for his campaign was a key element in his decline and fall.

It was the loss of its logistics vessels in a series of air attacks over the last two years, destruction of its gunboats and suicide craft, and the multi-pronged ground operations by several Sri Lankan military divisions marching in a concerted move along different axes that ultimately led to the fall of LTTE.

For many in Sri Lanka, the death of Prabhakaran was a jubilant event. The streets of the island country were flooded with flying banners and the sky was lit up with a colourful display of fireworks. But for the Tamils there, the situation is still bleak. Their future is unstable with no efforts from the Indian Government to welcome the thousands of innocent Tamil refugees.

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Anusha Surendran

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 2:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Published in: on November 10, 2009 at 10:14 am  Leave a Comment  

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