The committee has only one woman, and no external member, and therefore may violate the POSH Act.
With India’s top wrestlers mounting pressure on BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh to resign as the Wrestling Federation of India president over sexual harassment allegations, a closer look at the federation’s committee to deal with such complaints suggests a violation of several norms.
As per the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal), 2013, or the POSH Act, every employer of a workplace that has more than 10 employees must constitute an “internal complaints committee” to deal with such complaints.
However, the federation’s website suggests that it only has an “Ethics Commission” to deal with issues linked to “ethical practices and fair play in sports including elimination of doping practices, match fixing, fraud of age and sexual harassment of women in sports”. This is described as the “sexual harassment committee” but it also deals with other issues apart from sexual harassment complaints.
And even this doesn’t comply with all the norms listed under the POSH Act. It suggests at least three major violations: led by a man and not a senior woman employee, lacking an external member, and having only one woman as against the requirement of 50 percent strength as per the law.
Olympian Jai Prakash, who is the federation’s joint secretary and the convener of the sexual harassment committee, told Newslaundry that it is currently the only panel that looks at sexual harrasment within the federation. He said that he was not aware of any ICC committee at the WFI. Asked if the committee often gets complaints, he said he was unable to immediately recall when the last complaint had been received.
After allegations of sexual harassment by the country’s top wrestlers, the Delhi Commission for Women earlier issued notices to the ministry of youth affairs and sports and the police. It also sought copies of the complaints made by the women wrestlers against the WFI president and coaches.
“If the committee is not made as per requirements of the law, it is a violation. The requirements that are not followed in this case are very essential,” said Esha Shekhar, an independent legal consultant who focuses on POSH laws. “The rationale behind having a woman presiding officer is also to ensure that organisations have women in senior management. The senior women employee also brings a sense of maturity to the committee. Having an external member on the committee is essential to prevent bias.”
But is the federation covered under the POSH Act?
The second point of Chapter 1 of the law defines “workplace” as “any department, organisation, undertaking, establishment, enterprise, institution, office, branch or unit which is established, owned, controlled or wholly or substantially financed by funds provided directly or indirectly by the appropriate government or the local authority or a government company or a corporation or a co-operative society”. It also covers private sector organisations, society, trust, NGO, hospitals and nursing homes. It mentions “sports institute, stadium, sports complex or competition or games venue, whether residential or not used for training, sports or other activities relating thereto”.
“If the WFI receives grants from the government, it cannot claim to not be a workplace under the sexual harassment Act. If they themselves say this is the sexual harassment committee, it is bound to be in compliance with section 4 of the Act. When the law itself says the committee should have a higher number of women, the chairperson should be a woman, and there should be an external member, the idea is to ensure objectivity and comfort for the complainant. Even if the association is not strictly in non-compliance, it is ethically in violation. Because the law is establishing a benchmark of what constitutes a fair and independent committee and your committee is not meeting that benchmark at all, that means effectively you don't have a committee,” said advocate Nandita Rao, who practices at the Delhi High Court.
The WFI’s “Ethics Commission” is led by the federation’s secretary general VN Prasood. It also has Jai Prakash, executive member Vishal Singh, executive member Debendra Kumar Sahoo, and Dhyanchand Khel awardee Sakshi Malik as a member. Malik is among the wrestlers protesting.
The first requirement mentioned in the constitution of internal complaints committee chapter of the POSH Act, 2013 is that the presiding officer has to be a woman employed at a senior level. In the absence of such a representative, the law says that the presiding officer shall be nominated from other offices or administrative units. And if the other offices or administrative units of the workplace do not have a senior level woman employee, the presiding officer shall be nominated from any other workplace of the same employer or other department or organisation.
One of the members has to be from an NGO or association committed to the cause of women welfare, or someone familiar with issues related to sexual harassment.
The law also says that at least half of the total members of such committees shall be women. In the WFI’s case, at least two or three members should be women.
Kaiserganj MP Brij Bhushan Singh, who was elected unopposed for a third consecutive term as the WFI president in 2019, has earlier denied all the sexual harassment allegations.
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