Sexual Harassment – Where we Stand

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Sexual harassment is a giant issue not only for India but almost all states of the world. The term sexual harassment means “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” If we talk about India then we can find the roots of sexual harassment in the case of Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan where for the first time the term sexual harassment was defined. The hon’ble Supreme Court in this case for the very first time defines and issued directions with respect to the offence of sexual harassment.

In the year 2013 after almost a decade India got its first legislature covering the issue of sexual harassment and specifically sexual harassment with women at her workplace. Today, we are in 2017. So, we will try to read the legislature on this subject which is named as Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 with the challenges of today.

What Act Says?

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is the first enactment in India which discusses the issue of sexual harassment. The lays down as follows:

  • All those women harassed at her workplace including women as domestic workers, daily wagers, temporary or full-time workers as well as volunteers. The women may or may not be employees, and the law is applicable to women only.
  • Sexual harassment includes all those unwelcome actions, gestures, and request for sexual favors or conduct of sexual nature. Pornography to the women at her workplace by other physical or verbal/non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
  • The act will be enforceable for the women at the workplace as well as outside arising out or during the course of employment.
  • The act requires an internal complaint committee at every office and a local complaint committee at every district.
  • Aggrieved women can file a complaint within 3 months from the date of incident.
  • Even though money compensation is not a basis for settlement, the act provides an option for a settlement between the aggrieved women and the respondent but only upon the request of the women.
  • The inquiry has to be completed within 90 days.
  • The complaint committee has the power to take action against the women in cased of submission of malicious complaints or evidence.
  • The identity of any of the parties to the case must not be disclosed to anyone other then the court.

The act also imposes a duty over the employer to conduct various awareness pro0grammes to the employees, and it’s the responsibility of the employer to take proper care of the employees.

The term ‘sexual harassment’ and workplace is defined by section 2 of the act.

Where we are lacking?

  • Lack of Awareness

Awareness of the act and its provision is one of the essential if a country wants to achieve the objectives of the legislature framed. The legislature drafted is a dead law until and unless society is not aware of the laws prevailing. India faces this huge drawback. Here in our country laws are drafted but are not implemented effectively as a reason of which the law which is strong in paper becomes dead when it comes to execution. According to the survey conducted by INBA 53.3% people were of opinion that the members of Internal Complaint Committee were not aware of the provisions of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. By this we can assume how much sadistic the situation is. We have to consider this thing that in absence of awareness we cannot achieve the goals of this act. Without complete awareness this law is nothing but a dead law.

  • Gender Neutral

This is a major problem of our country that maximum of our laws are made gender bias. In most of situation it is presumed that female alone can be the victim. But this is a wrong view. A victim never is of one sex. A victim is always a victim. No matters he is a male or female. What requires is to think from both angles. We perceive that females are the alone who were sexually harassed but this fact is not correct as whole. It is both male as well as female who were sexually harassed at workplace. According to the survey conducted by INBA 22% of male reported that they were sexually harassed at workplace. This toll will definitely shift upward. The reason behind is that a male feels more uncomfortable as compared to female when it comes to the acceptance of commission of the sexual offence against him. Obviously, this situation is because of the social stigma and of this society which teaches him that he cannot be subject to sexual harassment.

  • No Suo Moto Cognizance of Acts

The Indian Penal Code, 1860 makes sexual harassment a cognizable offence. Under IPC an employer can file FIR for sexual harassment. Police without requiring consent or approval of the aggrieved women and the alleged perpetrator can be arrested without warrant as it is done in other cognizable offences also. The act introduced in 2013 makes it clear that a employer is not authorized to take suo moto cognizance of the acts of sexual harassment at workplace. Therefore, the employer has no option but to wait till he/she receive any oral or written complaint from aggraived women. Also, the employer can take the action against the offender under penal code only when the female desires so and not otherwise.

  • Ignorance or Sympathy with the aggressor

Ignorance of sexual harassment is one of the major issues. And because of this many acts of sexual harassment goes unreported. The fears of retaliation, subsequent repercussions are the factors behind the ignorance. One of the factors behind ignorance of such acts is the sympathy with the aggressor. The sympathy might be because of the friendship bond with that person or it might be of other reasons also. According to survey of INBA 68.9% females said that they did not complain about sexual harassment to the Internal Complaint Committee. It is to be noted that a ignorance of such act whether it is done because of fear of retaliation or sympathy with the aggressor will always harm the female. Ignorance by one will create problem for others. Even ignorance of such act provides a confidence to the aggressor to do something more than an act of harassing and the person will never relies what wrong he is doing.

Conclusion

It is concluded that Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is a well drafted law and is competent to punish the person who does the act of sexual harassment. The ineffectiveness of this law is because of mainly two factors viz. Ignorance and Awareness. The major factor behind ineffectiveness is the ignorance of such act by a female. It is beyond the thinking level that why a female don’t understand the fact that if she does not Condon such act then it is her ignorance which will give confidence to aggressor to do the act again and again. It is well settled today that a victim of such offences is not limited to the female alone. With the extending role of female in working sector the offence also spreads and covers the male of society. It is not in dispute that today males were also harassed at workplace. Therefore the time has arisen when we have to extend the limit of our sexual harassment law.

By: Sandeep
Student – CPJ-CHS & SOL

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