Chowdhury to probe RAW woman officer’s suicide attempt

August 20th, 2008 - 8:32 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 20 (IANS) Perturbed by the allegations of a woman officer of India’s external intelligence agency that she was sexually harassed by seniors which reportedly forced her to attempt suicide, Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury Wednesday said she would enquire into the matter.“I condemn the incident and I will go and meet the woman officer. Prima facie, I am convinced (of sexual harassment) and this is disturbing,” Chowdhury told reporters here.

“There is no diluting the fact. But I will collect all the facts and go into the merits of it. The incident is very unfortunate,” she said.

The minister said a fact-finding committee would ascertain the facts before she took any action. “We will address the issue. I will not keep silent on the sexual harassment allegations. She would not find herself alone. I can understand how shattered she would be. It is a shameful fact of our society,” she added.

Nisha Priya Bhatia, a Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) official and director in the Cabinet Secretariat, attempted suicide Tuesday afternoon near the South Block complex, which houses the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). She was rushed to the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital where her condition was described as out of danger by evening.

Senior officers said she was apparently suffering from a “disturbed state of mind” and was recommended medical counselling, which she had refused.

According to a Cabinet Secretariat press statement issued by the PMO Tuesday evening, Bhatia had lodged a complaint last year alleging sexual harassment by her joint secretary.

“The complaint was enquired into by the complaint committee constituted as per the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in this regard. An external lady officer was also co-opted as per these guidelines. The officer, however, withdrew her complaint,” the statement said.

“The officer was given several opportunities to present her case, but she refused to cooperate with the committee. Notwithstanding, the committee completed the inquiry on May 19, 2008, and found that her allegations could not be substantiated.”

But an agitated Chowdhury said women working in non-traditional jobs should be encouraged and not demoralised.

“It doesn’t matter what position a woman enjoys, she faces such kind of harassment. Women are entitled to their rights which has been granted to them through the constitution. They are asking for their rights,” she added.

The minister said they are trying to push a bill to prevent sexual harassment of women at the workplace.

“Hopefully, the bill will be tabled in parliament by the winter session. Unfortunately, it has taken a long time due to a lot of procedures to clear the bill. I know in every office women face such a situation and there are no women redressal cells. We need the law urgently.”

Asked if Bhatia was being threatened by seniors to keep quiet, Chowdhury said: “No one is above law.”

The Cabinet Secretariat statement had said there were a number of complaints from different officers of the organisation against Bhatia that ranged from alleged unauthorised communication and contact with media, insubordination, misbehaviour, abuse of authority and sending of objectionable and offensive SMSs to senior government officers.

“Due to these complaints of misconduct, a preliminary enquiry was ordered on Aug 8, 2008. She was informed about initiation of the enquiry today (Tuesday). But she indicated that she would not appear in any proceedings, and warned that the department would face the consequences.”

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