Officials of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India pose for a photograph after they released Sept. 14 the Indian church's first guidelines to deal with sexual harassment at the work place. (ucanews.com photo)
Indian Catholic bishops have asked their institutions and dioceses across the country to establish a system to receive complaints of sexual abuse, study them and report crimes to the police.
The bishops' Guidelines to "Deal with Sexual Harassment at Workplace," the first such initiative, was released in New Delhi Sept. 14. The guidelines were framed by the Women Council of the Indian Catholic bishops' conference.
Besides church institutions, all dioceses, parishes and religious congregations will institute complaints committees to which a case of sexual harassment can be reported.
The committees are to do a preliminary enquiry and crimes are to be reported to the police.
The guidelines want all kinds of abuse, including abuse by clergy, sexual harassment of men and abuse of transgender men and women to be reported.
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, the bishops' conference secretary general, said the guidelines are "not all about the laws but is an education about treatment of the other sex, the dignity and respect of one another."
Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas, chairperson of the bishop's Council for Women, said the church advocates "zero tolerance" against all forms of sexual abuse.
The guidelines are "gender inclusive and are formulated to create a safe and healthy work environment without fear or prejudice," he added.
The guidelines have been made in compliance with the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act passed by the federal government in 2013.
The law wanted organizations and companies to formulate guidelines to prevent sexual abuse at the work place. It has stipulated action against employers who fail to comply with the law.
Sexual harassment cases were increasing, government data shows. National Crime Records Bureau says cases of sexual harassment doubled between 2014-2015 from 57 to 119.
Sister Talisha Nadukudiyil, secretary of the bishops' Council for Women, told ucanews.com that Indian women continue to be victims of disrespect, attacks and harassment at home and at work because of "an unchanged and archaic social structure marked by patriarchy."
The nun who belongs to the Sister of Destitute congregation said earlier that there was no system for the victims to approach anyone in case of sexual harassment but "now the internal complaint committees will help to address the issues of the victims."
Presentation Sister Anastasia Gill, member of the minorities commission in New Delhi, said women make up the main work force in most activities of the church across the country and sexual harassment "is a reality."
"The church has now shown readiness to address this issue courageously," she said.