Do political parties have an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) in place so that women, in the event of sexual harassment or such crimes, have the formal recourse to complain and take further action?
The last couple of days, the media has been filled with reports of a woman alleging that she was impregnated after being raped inside CPI(M) party office in Palakkad district, Kerala.
A case of rape is a full-blown crime, one that needs the involvement and investigation of governmental law-enforcers. But the incident is a good backdrop to bring up the question of whether political parties have an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) in place so that women, in the event of sexual harassment or such crimes, have the formal recourse to complain and take further action?
As per all indications, the short answer to the above question is: No. Okay, only one party had officially said that it has set up an ICC. And that one party is: CPI(M).
Ironies just write themselves when it comes to Indian politics.
Anyway, at the height of #MeToo revelations last year, women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi shot off letters to the seven national and 59 recognised state political parties urging them to put in place an ICC to look into complaints of sexual harassment.
Till February this year, save for the CPI(M), no party had responded to the letter. And the one party, which constituted an ICC, is now facing an allegation of rape in its premises.
Women activists are cut up with the state of affairs in all political parties. As it is, there are high number of women involved in political parties. "We keep hearing about how women in politics are regularly exploited and harassed by their male colleagues. But since it is political parties, most of the incidents are buried. The helpless women are silenced easily," said Sripriya Raghavan, an advocate in Bengaluru.
She recalled the well-known incident of an AAP woman worker, who committed suicide in 2016, when her complaint regarding a male colleague harassing her fell on deaf ears. She even filed a police case, but the man came out on bail, and her complaint to the party boss Arvind Kejriwal did not elicit any response. If anything, she was asked to adjust. In the event, she committed suicide.
"It is a sobering case. But very typical of the state of affairs," added Sripriya.
The AAP woman's case is known outside because the police registered her complaint. But many women don't have such luck. A woman worker of a Dravidian party in Tamil Nadu was constantly stalked and threatened by a man from the same party. The fact that she was married and was also a mother of a kid did not matter to that pervert, who kept harassing her. No amount of complaints to the party bosses could get that man off her back. She was dissuaded from going to the police with a complaint against her own party colleague.
The woman, eventually, gave up her political ambitions, and went back to her village just to escape the wrath of the sexual predator.
"The incidents you hear from ladies in the women's wings of various parties are shocking. Many 'compromise' because the one asking for sexual favours is mostly a top leader in the party itself. It is difficult to fight against power," said Muthu Kathiresan, who is an advisor to a women's NGO.
Many women are coerced to provide consent. "It is rape by euphemism," he said.
Activists say the ICC would be ineffective when it comes to women party members. The ICC has legal teeth to help only those who are employees of a party. "Most women, who are exploited or harassed, are typically members or workers, and hence have no legal safeguard."
Muthu Kathiresan said many party offices, especially in smaller towns across the country, are prime spots for targeting women. As police are generally wary of entering political offices, it offers easy space for men to carry out their nefarious activities. He said that he is not surprised by the charge of rape in a party office in Palakkad. "As I said, it is a location tailor-made for such perverted pursuits."
Political parties should set their own houses in order before they can clean the rot elsewhere, said Sripriya. "That will be the most moral thing to do. And this election season is the time to make them take corrective steps."
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Last Updated Mar 26, 2019, 3:14 PM IST