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The Supreme Court on Thursday admitted a PIL that sought the extension of the Vishakha guidelines to religious places, including ‘ashrams’, ‘madrasas’ and Catholic institutions. “If the Vishakha Guidelines are extended to these religious institutions, it would assist a lot in reducing sexually related crimes against women at religious places by various religious gurus or leaders of that particular institution,” the petition said adding that there was rampant rise in the cases of sexual exploitation of women in such places.

The apex court had on August 13, 1997, in the Vishakha case, laid down as many as 12 guidelines to be followed by the employers to prevent or deter acts of sexual harassments against women.

The fresh petition, filed by advocate Maneesh Pathak, said religious places constitute part of workplace as many women are employed there, other than those working on a voluntarily basis. The petition specifically referred to the recent cases which have hit the headlines, like the one of the Kerala priest raping a nun at a seminary in the state, and other self styled gurus like Ram Rahim, Asaram Bapu and Daati Maharaj.

The petition sought collection of data of such religious institutions where women practice and profess religion, for taking effective steps on the basis of the guidelines to provide assistance to the victims of sexual assaults.

It also sought the Centre to direct the authorities concerned of the particular area, where such religious institutions are situated, to do the background verification religious leaders, especially “new upcoming babas” or “heads of those madarsas” and churches.

It also sought directions to the Centre to provide adequate measures for women safety at religious places by conducting periodic checks from state women panels.

The women fear sexual exploitation in joining or interacting with “religious institutions like ashrams, madarsas or the catholic institutions to profess their religious activities”, the petition said.

It needs a considerable framing of policies based on the Vishakha guidelines so that women may feel safe at religious places, it said.

                                                                                                        —India Legal Bureau

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