From 2018 to 2022, four women reported instances of sexual harassment involving suspended Delhi government official Premoday Khakha (51), who was taken into custody on Monday for allegedly raping a minor girl multiple times at his residence between November 2020 and January 2021.
During the specified time frame, the Women and Child Development department, where Khakha worked before his suspension, reportedly received four complaints of sexual harassment attributed to the accused.
These incidents involved four women employed at a mental health unit within the Sewa Kutir complex in Kingsway Camp, where Khakha was stationed as a superintendent.
The complainants, who worked on contract for a non-governmental organisation (NGO), were assigned to the mental health unit at that time.
While recounting her ordeal, one of the alleged victims told IANS that from 2018 to 2019, she worked as a clinical psychologist in Kingsway Camp.
“Sexual harassment was persistent for a considerable period. And I'm not alone who went through such experience; there are numerous individuals like me. But our attempts to raise our voices fell on deaf ears. In January 2019, I officially lodged a complaint, specifically with the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW),” she said.
“I raised two complaints against Khakha - one involving sexual harassment and the other related to child rights violations. The DCW team assured me that they would arrange a meeting between DCW chief Swati Maliwal and me, but unfortunately the meeting never materialised and no action was taken,” she added.
“Although we did manage to initiate action upon filing the complaint, the response was to transfer us without any valid explanation. By March 15, 2019, I was even prohibited from entering the office. Khakha had established his own arbitrary rules and regulations,” she told IANS.
“Pressure was also exerted on the counselor, who would frequently issue threats. If not for his mistreatment, the issue would not have persisted for so long. I even sought assistance from the women's cell, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. And it's not just me, as many others have faced the same fate of being ignored and unheard,” she said.
Another alleged victim told IANS said that Khakha would frequently comment on their appearance and clothing, often cracking double-meaning jokes.
“The pressure to work overtime was relentless. And these challenges weren't unique for me as other female colleagues faced the same predicament. Even as the internal committee was conducting its investigation, my coworkers submitted their statements. Despite this, the decision they arrived at was disheartening. That's when I decided it was time for me to step forward,” she said.
“Disturbingly, instances of POSCO violations involving children who worked in the too office had occurred. Shockingly, we were pressured to not report these cases. We raised the matter with the secretary, but no action was taken. Our complaint also reached the DCW, yet their response lacked effectiveness,” she said.
“Rather than addressing the issue, the department continued to promote Khakha despite many workers, myself included, enduring harassment from the outset. We reported these incidents but no action was taken. Subsequent to our complaints, the matter was referred to the JJC,” she said.
“Khakha was subsequently suspended from his position, and directions were issued to prevent his placement in any similar department,” she added.
Meanwhile, the DCW said that it has been informed that four complaints regarding sexual harassment at workplace were lodged against the accused person earlier.
“It is learnt that three complaints were submitted by three separate women while the fourth complaint was anonymous. All three complainants approached the Delhi High Court. It is informed that one application was disposed of by the high court while the remaining two are still pending there,” DCW said in a statement.
DCW chief Swati Maliwal further recommended that the government should set up a new, robust internal complaints committee under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act with more external experts from leading NGOs working on gender issues.
“This committee should examine all pending complaints of sexual harassment at workplace against officers posted in the Delhi government and submit its report urgently to the government as well as the Delhi Commission for Women. Also, the government should create a list of such officers against whom cases with respect to crimes against women and children are pending, and the same should be urgently inquired into,” Maliwal said.
A Delhi court had on Wednesday extended the judicial custody of Khakha and his wife, who reportedly forced the minor victim medicine to terminate her pregnancy, by 14 days.
On Monday, Delhi Police had arrested Khakha and his wife after questioning them for several hours at their residence. The move came after the victim recorded her statement before a magistrate at a city hospital.