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'Inefficient, Laidback': Atishi on ICC's Reply to Complaints Against WCD Officer

Highlighting the "inefficient" response, AAP Minister Atishi called for stricter rules to strengthen ICC panels.

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Gender
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"We will not help you."

This was what the Delhi Women and Child Department's (WCD) Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) told one complainant, who accused its deputy director of sexual harassment, said AAP Minister Atishi, in a letter addressed to Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar.

The now-suspended WCD official was arrested by the Delhi Police on 21 August, for allegedly raping and impregnating a minor, who was living with him and his family between 2020-2021.

From "brushing aside” to "delaying" complaints of sexual harassment against the official, WCD Minister Atishi highlighted the “inefficient” and "laidback" response of the government. She also directed Kumar to draft detailed processes and rules to strengthen the ICC across all government departments.

The direction was issued days after the chief secretary submitted a detailed report on how the Delhi government official managed to escape action despite sexual harassment complaints lodged against him in the past.

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'Our Failure Partly Responsible For Heinous Crime'

The 51-year-old official, who was a former Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) minister and a resource trainer on child protection, was arrested for allegedly raping the minor, who was living with him and his family after the death of her father in 2020 in northwest Delhi's Burari. His wife was also arrested for allegedly giving the girl “abortion pills” and terminating her pregnancy.

While the incident took place two years ago, it came to light in earlier in August when the minor was admitted to a hospital after she had "bouts of anxiety," police told The Quint earlier last month.

It was after the arrest it came to light that four complaints of sexual harassment, one of which was filed anonymously, were filed against the official in the past.

In her note, Atishi said, "It is unfortunate to see that repeatedly sexual harassment complaints were received against the same person, and all of them pointed to his misbehaviour with women in the workplace, yet our system was not vigilant enough to identify and stop this pattern…”

“In a bizarrely shocking turn of events, in one of the cases, the complainant received a one-line email from ICC stating ‘we will not help you’…Through whatever systematic error it may have occurred, it is surely to put doubts in the mind of the about receiving any justice at the hands of such an ICC,” Atishi wrote.

Atishi said the approach had “allowed the accused to escape any repercussions and that may have emboldened him further”.

According to Hindustan Times, the other complainants were employed by a a partner NGO of the WCD and were then working at the mental health unit on a contractual basis.

Two complaints have now become cases pending before the Delhi High Court while the others were disposed of by the committee due to “lack of evidence," the newspaper reported.

'Casual Approach Towards Misogynistic Behaviour A Problem'

In her letter, Atishi pointed out how the four women had to run from pillar to post to find out the correct process to lodge their complaints, which made her wonder if “the composition of ICC seems to be suspect."

Citing The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, Atishi said that all sexual harassment charges did not have to include physical molestation or rape before the "government regards them as serious issues."

The letter stated that the complainants also approached the Secretary WCD, the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) and the office of Deputy CM and this also led to a delay in a formal complaint being lodged, for no fault of the complainants.

“Members of ICC should ideally be senior to the accused and not in direct line of power either above or below the accused. Besides, a complainant had alleged that her ICC comprised members employed on a contractual basis and the accused held power over the termination or extension of their contracts. Such issues sow seeds of doubt not just in the minds of the complainants but also any third-party observer trying to gauge the government’s response to such serious allegations,” Atishi said.

The minister added that it was the "casual approach towards problematic misoginistic behaviour, as shown by the ICCs" which was the seed of the problem.

“I am ashamed of this behaviour on our part…I am both alarmed and disappointed by the department’s inability to identify and take action against this repeated pattern of harassment by an employee of the WCD. When multiple complaints come up against the same employee, surely it needs to ring alarm bells in our mind and a deeper investigation should be warranted," she said.
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Atishi Calls To Toughen Harassment Panel

The "exceptionally disturbing incident" is a "wakeup call for us," Atishi said, while asking the chief secretary to draft measures in the next ten days to avoid such incidents in the future.

1. Draft a detailed process and rules to strengthen the ICC across all government departments/ bodies and make the entire system of tackling sexual harassment more efficient and receptive to the unique, sensitive contexts of sexual harassment at a government workplace.

2. Create a system to flag cases when an official of the Delhi government has been accused of sexual harassment and intimidation “repeatedly”.

3. ICC and the Delhi government employees seem to be in dire need of training regarding what constitutes sexual harassment at the workplace in the eyes of the law, Atishi said.

The couple continues to be in judicial custody, police official said, adding that investigation was underway.

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