How to fight sexual harassment at workplace?

“Ding-dong, the bell rang as it always does giving rays of hope to a middle class family whose daughter was struggling through the interview phase. Annie looked at her mother with a blank face as many more rays of hope have been flushed earlier as it didn’t matter. She opened the door with slight hesitation, postman handed over a letter to her with her initials over it. Tears roll down her cheeks with a smile when she opened the letter, Anamika Sharma (Annie) has got a job in a MNC. She has it all planned all over her mind like thousand times about her 1st day in office, she didn’t know what awaits her.

 The boss was all polite in the starting as if waiting for the real chance to pound on her. He started making sexual advances towards her, making sexually colored remarks, never miss a chance to touch her. She gave herself a pat and stood up as if she could make it as if he would stop, but nothing changed rather it was getting worse and worse.

One day after done talking to herself in the mirror, she went to her colleague Rudra and before she could say anything, Rudra said it will get better, it will get better in time, and you will pull yourself together. How the hell could you talk, how could you talk until you walk where she walked, where Girls like Annie tried to stand against it, but all they ever got was just talk”

Nearly all the countries provide legal recourse against sexual harassment, the extent to which such remedies are used depends upon the legal system where it is located. In some countries, sexual harassment is legislatively as well as judicially a prohibited activity, however other countries are yet to reach this level of awareness.

In India due to the interpretation by our supreme court, our legal system has reached that level of awareness where sexual harassment at workplace is recognized as a prohibited activity. There are some prominent cases, including the famous Bhanwari Devi Case which brought word Sexual Harassment into the Indian Legal scenario providing us with landmark Vishaka Guidelines. Apart from it many other cases like Rina Mukherjee v. The Statesman and Rupan Deol Bajaj (IAS officer) v. Super CopKPSGill, which showed us the way to implement sexual harassment at workplace in India.

In BHANWARI DEVI case the lawyers cited ridiculous reasons i.e. how can an uncle have sex in front of his nephew, etc.- therefore, the defendants were allowed to go scot free. This judgment enraged a women’s rights group called Vishakha that filed public interest litigation in the Supreme Court of India leading to a landmark & visionary judgment in today’s times by Late CJI J.S. Verma. Unfortunately, it took sixteen years for the government of India to introduce a defective Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, after this landmark Supreme Court judgment.

In Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, the three-judge bench came to the decision that “the meaning and content of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the constitution of India are of sufficient amplitude to encompass all the facets of gender equality including prevention of sexual harassment or abuse.”

Also in Apparel Export Promotion Council v. A.K. Chopra, a division bench of the Supreme Court decided that “fundamental rights guaranteed by our constitution encompass all facets of gender equality and, hence, include protection from sexual harassment and abuse”.

There are international conventions such as Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, which universally recognizes Protection against sexual harassment and the right to work with dignity and has been ratified on the 25th June 1993 by the government of India. Sexual harassment results in not only the violation of the fundamental rights of a woman to equality under Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India but also her right to life and to live with dignity under article 21 of the constitution and also the right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business which includes a right to a safe environment free from sexual harassment.

Your weapons at hand

Women is indeed respected and worshiped in    Indian culture, ideally no women should be harassed but the important thing is put in a brave fight, even Maa Durga had a grueling fight with the ferocious demon Mahishasura for 9 days before slaying him down.

She had the Trident, the Chakra, a Sword and unfettering courage to fight, given below are some of the weapons available to you for combating sexual harassment:

 

 

1.Talk to your family members

Many a times women feel ashamed to talk to family members when facing such harassment issues, this is the first and foremost step which would help resolving the problem at the earliest.

When everyone else in the world will give you just a talk its only your family who shall stand by you and protect you to their life’s end.

2.File a complaint under sexual harassment at workplace act.

If any acts of the respondent falls under the definition of sexual harassment under section 2(n), “”sexual harassment” includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour (whether directly or by implication) namely:—

  • physical contact and advances; or
  • a demand or request for sexual favours; or

making sexually coloured remarks; or

  • showing pornography; or
  • any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature;”

 

then the aggrieved woman can make complaint in writing to the internal complain committee or the local committee if not constituted within a period of three months from the date of incident under section 9 of the sexual harassment act and also according to section 9(2) if a woman is unable to make a complaint on account of her physical or mental incapacity or death or otherwise, her legal heir or such other person as may be prescribed may make a complaint.

Procedure

According to section 4 of the act, an employer shall constitute an internal complaint committee at a workplace. The committee tries to mediate between the parties and tries to inquire into the concerned matter.

Conciliation

After the complaint had been filed by the aggrieved woman the internal complain committee before initiating any inquiry under section 11 and at the request of the aggrieved woman take steps to settle the matter between the complainant and the respondent through conciliation. The committee cannot make any monetary settlement between the parties.

Inquiry into complaint

Subject to the provision of section 10 if a prima facie case exists than the committee forward the complaint to the police within the period of seven days for registering the case under section 509 of the Indian penal code (45 of 1860), and any other provision of the said code. The inquiry shall be completed within a period of ninety days.

Inquiry report

Where the internal committee or the local committee, as the case may be, arrives at the conclusion that if the allegation has been proved against the respondent then the report is transferred to the employer to take actions against the sexual harassment, and if the allegations are not proved than no action is required to be taken in the matter.

3.File a complaint to the anti-ragging committee of your University.

As per University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines all universities have to compulsorily form an anti-ragging cell, the definition of ragging covers all incidences of sexual harassment.

You can also send an e-mail to UGC helpline@antiragging.in or call UGC anti-ragging helping: 1800-180-5522(24×7) Toll Free number for reporting any such incidence

4.Call Women Helpline number.

Many Indian States have started with women help-line numbers for women facing sexual harassment.

1091 and 181 one are applicable for most of the Indian states.

This can be an effective measure to combat sexual harassment, once you call a counselor and a lady police constable shall be assigned to your rescue.

5.Lodge a Police Complaint.

A complain can be also be lodged directly at your nearest police station, the recent amendments in Indian Penal Code provides for strict punishments for modern day offences against women including offences committed through the web world.

6.File a writ petition

According to the constitution of India, an aggrieved woman has right to approach High court and Supreme Court under article 226 and 32 respectively of Indian constitution. The court has jurisdiction to enforce the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution by issuing writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto, and certiorari.

Fundamental rights can also be enforced against private bodies and individuals, Government companies or public sector undertakings or other bodies falling within the purview of article 12 of the Indian constitution, which states being “states” are “constitutionally liable to respect life and liberty of all persons  in terms of article 21 of the Constitution of India. They, therefore, must do so in cases of their own employees.”

Government liability extends not only to companies and firms but also to all the government bodies having deep and pervasive control over such bodies, in the matter of enforcement of human rights and rights of the citizen to life and liberty, the state government would also have an additional duty to see the rights of employees of such bodies are not infringed.

In cases where there is involvement of politically powerful persons or where police is not cooperating then this remedy can be effectively resorted to.

Conclusion

In the era where more and more women are joining the workforce under male bosses, incidences of sexual harassment are increasing day by day, many suffer silently and only a few come out.

We are hopeful that this article shall help you fight sexual harassment at workplace and even if one woman is able to fight off successfully we shall be grateful to the almighty.

You can also contact us on our helpline number 9429257237(Operating currently only at Vadodara) and we shall be obliged to assist you in taking further legal recourse.

About the contributor:

  Devanshu is a law student studying at National  University of Law at Patiala, Punjab. He is a social activist by heart, aspiring lawyer, loves reading and occasionally scribbles.

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