Sexual harassment involves offensive, humiliative, or intimidating behavior which can be in a written, oral, physical, or even in digital form. In this 21st century, where both men and women work together in an organization, it has been found that women have to face some kinds of unusual behavior inside the workplace from their colleagues. This would be considered a violation of women’s right to equality, life, and liberty. Women have to face an insecure and hostile environment that discourages women’s participation and work, and it demotivates them. This has become a common problem in the world irrespective of any profession.
India, being a democratic country, all citizens have the inherent right to live with dignity provided under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. With the increasing amount of industrialization, many employers started employing women. However, the absence of a law on sexual harassment at workplaces and the increasing cases of such cases lead the legislature to formulate legislation based on sexual harassment resulting in the birth of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013. In Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan[(1997) 6 SCC 241], it was observed for the first time that India needs legislation for sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment may include:
- Asking for sex or sexual favors.
- Questioning about your sex life.
- Trying to touch or grab without consent.
- Making comments which have sexual meaning.
- Leering and staring at or suggestive body movements towards
- Showing pornography.
- Sexually colored remarks.
- Making inappropriate sexual gestures.
The Supreme Court incorporated basic principles of human rights enshrined in the Constitution of India under Article 14, 15, 19(1)(g) and 21, and provisions of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), in the guidelines to prevent and discourage sexual harassment at workplaces. The guidelines which had been laid down by the Supreme Court were to be treated as law declared under Article 141 for the Constitution.
What shall one do if one is sexually harassed?
- A woman who is a victim of sexual harassment can file a written complaint to ICC ( Internal Complaints Committee) within three months from the date of the incident. Up to three months of delay of filing the complaint is acceptable by the committee and if there is any physical or mental incapability in the aggrieved, then legal heirs or any such other person as provided in Rule 6 of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Rules, 2013 (“the Rules”) may make a complaint.
- When a complaint is received, the committee, before initiating an inquiry, may try to settle the matter between her and the respondent through conciliation, and when a settlement has arrived, no further inquiry is conducted. If the conciliation fails or any term of the settlement arrived at has not been complied with by the respondent, the committee shall proceed further with the inquiry.
- After completion of the inquiry within 10 days, the report of its finding shall be provided to the employer/District officer and the concerned parties. In case of any false filling or false evidence, the committee may recommend taking action as per the provision of the rule as prescribed in Rule 10.
- Within 90 days of the recommendation before the court or tribunal, an appeal can be filed against the recommendations of the committee.
It is also the duty of the Employer and the District Officer under Section 19 and 20 of the Act to do acts such as creating awareness on sexual harassment in the workplace, sensitizing the employees, assisting the complaint committee in conducting an inquiry, timely submission of reports to the committee, etc.
Non-compliance to these may result in a fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees and can also lead to cancellation of license, renewable or withdrawal or cancellation of the registration as the case may be. It is also to be noted that during a job interview employers should not be asking about status, age, disabilities, race, caste, country of origin, sexual preference. Such behavior would also fall under Sexual harassment.
In India, sexual harassment at the workplace is highly prevalent and there is a need for gender sensitization and letting an employee know the basic rules of workplace behavior. It is unlawful to harass a person because of a person’s sex. Both the party can be either a woman or a man,, and the victim and harasser can be of the same sex. It has become a global problem in both developed and undeveloped countries in the world and should be looked upon seriously by both,employer and employees.
By Bhanita Das