Smt. Radharani Panda and Orissa Assembly: Points to Ponder

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Affidavits of Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assemblies show that many of them are under-trial offenders. Orissa Assembly is, therefore, a place, whereinto under-trial offenders have also entered as elected representative.

Under-trial offenders are always not casual offenders. There are habitual offenders whom the law has allowed to dwell beyond jails under bails; and that has helped them file their nomination papers, contest the elections and occupy berths in the ramparts of democracy.

So, when august houses of people’s representatives have under-trial habitual offenders with allegations of severe felonies like rape on their heads, there are many women members in the Parliament and Assemblies.

The sexually offending slangs vomited by Pradeep Maharathy, agriculture minister of Orissa, upon a lady member of Opposition BJP, Smt. Radharani Panda in the august house itself, seeking justice against which she sat in Darana on the floor of the house for three days, is a pointer to sexual harassment in workplace inside the Legislature.

Her historic protest against the sexual offense is indicative of how vulnerable are our women members inside the Legislatures fortified by privileges and empowered to take cognizance of contempt against outsiders.

This calls for serious cogitation on the issue.

Ms. Panda has said that even though she ended her Dharana Sayagraha as Maharathy begged apology and as the floor was to be normal to take up debates on many serious issues like the chit fund scam, yet, as a woman, she is not free from the mental trauma, which Moharathy had subjected her to.

This leads us to the issue of women legislators where habitual male offenders, considered guiltless till found guilty, abound.

And, we find, a law specifically created to prevent sexual harassment in workplaces is not honored in Orissa Assembly in matter of its members.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 is an “Act to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.

The 66 years long experience of inability in giving quick justice to sexually harassed women, the Republic of India had enacted this specific law on 22 April 2013.

“WHEREAS sexual harassment results in violation of fundamental rights of a woman to equality under Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India and her right to life and to live with dignity under Article 21 of the constitution and right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business which includes a right to a safe environment free from sexual harassment;

AND WHEREAS the protection against sexual harassment and the right to work with dignity are universally recognized human rights by international conventions and instruments such as Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, which has been ratified on the 25th June 1993 by the Government of India;

AND WHEREAS it is expedient to make provisions for giving effect to the said Convention for protection of women against sexual harassment at workplace”, this specific Act was enacted.

It extends to whole of India (Sub-Sec,2 of Section 1). It applies to any woman, “of any age whether employed or not, who alleges to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment” ( Clause (i) of Sub-Sec. (a) of Sec.2), whereas “sexual harassment” is defined amongst different categories as, “making sexually coloured remarks” and “any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature” (Sect. 2 (n): (iii) and (v) of the Act).

“Any establishment” which is “wholly or substantially financed by funds provided directly or indirectly by the appropriate Government” is a workplace, under (o) (i) of Sec.2.

So, Orissa Assembly is a workplace where women members of the Assembly are entitled to protections provided under the Act bearing No.14 of 2013.

When it extends to whole of India, the Parliament and Assemblies including Orissa Assembly should immediately implement it in respect to their members in order to save the Radharani Pandas from the Pradeep Maharathies.

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