Sexual Harassment at Workplace

Ayesha works as a secretary in a private company. One day, as she eats lunch in the cafeteria, she is approached by siraj, a colleague from another department. He sits down at her table uninvited and starts to tell about how he is unhappy in his marriage. He goes into graphic detail about his private life. Ayesha is deeply uncomfortable with this. She wants Siraj to stop but is afraid to ask him. He works at a senior position and Ayesha has only been working here for 5 months. She quickly finishes her lunch and excuses herself. But it doesn’t end there. Siraj manages to get her number and starts sending her personal messages. Ayesha deletes the messages without responding.                 Unfortunately for ayesha, siraj is a good friend of her boss, Ravi. Siraj visits ravi’s office often. Somehow, he always come when ravi is in a meeting or away for lunch and tries to chat with ayesha as he supposedly waits for ravi. It soon gets unbearable. But ayesha feels like she cannot complain against siraj because he has never touched her or made any verbal sexual advances directly. Still, ayesha feels violated. She remembers then that friend, reena, studied law. She finds reena on a social media platform and writes to her about her problem. Reena writes back to her that despite the lack of overt sexual advances, what siraj has subjected ayesha to counts as sexual harassment and that she can formally complain against siraj. 

WORKPLACE SEXUAL HARASSMENT, THE ISSUE AND THE LAW :    

The Indian Penal Code defines sexual harassment as a situation where a person makes any unwelcome sexual advances, demands or requests sexual favors, shows pornography, or makes sexually colored remarks to a woman.                         The Gang rape of a Dalit development worker in Rajasthan in 1992 and the court case that followed it led to the Vishaka guidelines that codified the law on workplace sexual harassment for the first time in India. As a result of this case, the apex court acknowledged workplace sexual harassment as a human rights violation. 

A 2013 act defines the problem, identifies possible victims and stakeholders, and outlines procedure to be followed in such cases.                                             

“THE SEXUAL HARASSMENT OF WOMEN AT WORKPLACE ( PREVENTION, PROHIBITION AND REDRESSAL ACT, 2013”).                                                An important addition of this act is the setting up of complaints committee at the internal and local levels. Employers should set up an Internal complaints committee or ICC, that is headed by a woman and half of its members of an NGO with knowledge of the issue. According to University Grants Commission regulations, colleges should also have ICC’S that will look into complaints by students, teaching and non teaching staff. An aggrieved woman should file a written complaint with the ICC within three months of the Incident. The ICC may attempt a settlement that is no monetary between the complainant and the accused, if the complainant requests it.                       If a sertlement is reached, there is no enquiry but if there is no settlement, the ICC will intiate a formal enquiry. During the enquiry the ICC has powers to akin to those of a civil court and may summon people as required. During this time, the ICC may also reccomend that the employer transfer the woman, or grant her leave, or not allow the accused to supervise her work, if the complainant requests such action. If the accused is found guilty, the ICC may reccomend suitable punishment. It may also recommend monetary compensation to be made to the victim. 

If the complaint is found to be false, the committee may reccomend action against the complainant. The proceedings should be confidential. Thr complainant should not face any repercussions for choosing to file a complaint.                                          Now we about this, where do you think ayesha’s case stands vis-à-vis the 2013 act, if she chooses to complain against siraj ? 

She can write to the ICC about her troubles and get them involved. Ayesha might struggle to get proof, as she has deleted siraj’s messages, and all their other interactions have taken place without any winessess. And this is a big issue, with harassment cases – it is difficult to prove, or, for that matter, difficult to even define comprehensively. Bear in mind that even when a person has evidence, the court may not rule in their favor. Taking court’s opinion in certain judgements, some people may argue that even siraj did not intend to harass ayesha and that she misunderstood his efforts at a harmless friendship. 

But with harasament, what matters is the effect of action has on a person, NOT THE INTENT BEHIND IT. 

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