The recent elevation of environmental scientist R K Pachauri to the role of Executive Vice Chairman by the TERI Governing Council has made a mockery of the sexual harassment law. It squarely puts Indian civil society in the spotlight. Ethics and values regarding gender equality that we fought to bring into the mainstream and uphold have been blatantly disregarded in this case.
In 1997, the Supreme Court issued the Vishaka Guidelines, a result of the now famous Bhanwari Devi case, which defined sexual harassment at the workplace. These guidelines were mandatory for implementation across all organised workplaces -- government, corporates and civil society.
The NGO sector is quick to demand accountability and good governance from others. In fact, raising accountability standards is our primary purpose.
On 9 December 2013, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act came into force. It was the result of 16 years of intense lobbying by the women's movement, which included Oxfam India. Though the law has now been in place for a couple of years it is clear that its implementation has been uneven. The Pachauri case puts the spotlight back on the lack of spirit and energy behind it.
A 2015 study about the status of responsible business practices in India conducted by Oxfam India found that 73 of the top 100 listed companies on the Bombay Stock Exchange have publicly stated policies on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. No similar audit has been done for the top 100 NGOs in the country. Globally, NGOs that are signatory to the INGO Charter of Accountability hold themselves up to scrutiny and standards. It will good for us to adopt and adhere to similar standards in India.
Last February, at the global level, embarrassment and discomfort drove Pachauri to step down as chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It was simply unacceptable for him to remain in his position. Why is it different within India? What will it take for the governing council of TERI to show him the door?
This is a moment of introspection for us. The NGO sector is quick to demand accountability and good governance from others. In fact, raising accountability standards is our primary purpose. It is time to put a distance between TERI's governing council and the rest of civil society. It is also a time for each one of us to put in place our own work place sexual harassment policies and make them public.
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