Leading experts from diverse fields such as the government, academia, economy and banking converged at the prestigious Columbia University here in the US and discussed the Indian economy, blockchain, education, women's rights and the MeToo movement in India.
Speakers at the event, organised by the students at the Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, included economist and former vice-chairman of NITI Aayog Arvind Panagariya, Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India Rajiv Mehrishi, prominent lawyer and social activist Abha Singh, Country Head (US Operations), State Bank of India, Ashwini Tewari, Deputy Director, Monetary and Capital Markets Department at the International Monetary Fund Ratna Sahay and Lead Economist for India at the World Bank Poonam Gupta.
In her remarks, Singh focussed on the impact of the MeToo movement on corporate culture in India. She cited statistics to show the extent to which sexual harassment was rampant in India, noting that cases of sexual harassment in the country rose by 45 per cent in the last three years and 75 per cent of sexual harassment victims experience retaliation when they speak up.
She also pointed out that several companies had not even formed Internal Grievance Committees to address the problem, thereby brazenly violating the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 (POSH Act).
Explaining the provisions of the Act, the former bureaucrat lamented that the penalty for violating the POSH Act is merely Rs 50,000 (a little over USD 700), which she said is a minuscule amount for big corporates.
Singh noted that the rise of the MeToo movement in India can directly be attributed to the failure of the POSH Act to curb sexual harassment and the absence of any strict punishment.
She stressed the need to amend Section 26 of the POSH Act and incorporate criminal liability for non-compliance with its provisions.
Directors and officers of companies violating the POSH Act must be held accountable through a prison term as well as heavy fines, she said, adding that strictness of the punishment can be increased by declaring such accused persons as 'Deemed Guilty', leaving it on them to prove their innocence during trial.
"Only then would corporate India be able to curb sexual harassment which has brought tremendous infamy to the country and has impeded the rise of women up the ranks," Singh added.
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