India passes sexual harassment billAgence France-Presse . New Delhi
India’s parliament, which has been deadlocked for days due to opposition protests, on Monday used a brief break in the uproar to pass legislation protecting women from sexual harassment at work.
The lower house passed the bill before business was again abandoned for the day as lawmakers from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party shouted, stood in the well of the assembly and waved their papers.
Women’s rights activists say sexual harassment is a rampant problem in India, where an increasing number of women are joining the workforce.
The legislation, which must still be passed by the upper house before becoming law, specifically includes protection for female domestic staff, one of the most vulnerable work groups in India.
‘I am glad that they cleared this crucial bill. Women have a right to feel safe wherever they are,’ said Raghavi Behl, a professor of women’s studies at Delhi University.
The anti-harassment bill, which improves women’s rights to take legal action against abuse at work, also means that all workplaces must have a formal complaints system for sexual harassment allegations.
‘Many women are scared to report sexual abuse as they want to keep their jobs,’ said RK Sethi,
who runs Shakti, a women’s rights forum in New Delhi.
Sethi said studies suggest one out of five Indian female workers aged under 35 have suffered physical assault by a colleague or manager at work.
Meanwhile, India’s parliament was adjourned for the ninth consecutive day on Monday due to protests by the opposition that show no sign of abating in the last week of the current monsoon session.
BJP wants prime minister Manmohan Singh to resign over allegations from the national auditor that his government missed out on billions of dollars of revenue by giving away coalfields.
The BJP has regularly disrupted parliament since the last election, with protests over the government’s alleged mis-selling of mobile phone licences wiping out the entire 2010 winter session.
In the ongoing monsoon session of parliament, which ends on Saturday, 29 bills were listed for consideration and passing, but only four have been cleared so far, according to the independent PRS Legislative Research organisation.
The leader of the opposition in parliament, Sushma Swaraj, has demanded that the government cancel coal licences it granted and that an ‘independent
and fair probe’ into the alleged ‘Coalgate’ scam is started.
The government has rejected the conditions.
The parliament has been deadlocked since August 21 after a report by the official auditor concluded that mining rights were handed out in a process that ‘lacked transparency and objectivity’.
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