Being a living survivor of male dominating society, all the women out there have their right to life and personal liberty on the threat. We say that right to life is an important constituent which is intrinsic to our Indian Constitution, however, this constituent does not come alone. It a package of rights and one part of it is the right to safe working environment.
Sexual harassment is that illness which has its effect on every corner of the world.
Often, the harassment at workplace becomes a pain in life and the consequences of such stressful situations force the victim to end their life.
According to section 2(n) of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013, the term sexual harassment includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behavior (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.
With the implementation of the Act, the expectation was a decrease in the number of sexual harassment cases, but unfortunately, the opposite happened. Between 2014 and 2015, cases of sexual harassment within office premises more than doubled from 57% to 119% according to National Crime Records Bureau data. Besides, according to a survey conducted by Indian National Bar Association between April and October 2016 on sexual harassment at workplace, out of the sample size of 6,047 participants, 38% of the women suffered harassment at workplace.
There has also been a 51% rise in sexual harassment cases at other places related to work from 469 in 2014 to 714 in 2015.
Different people can analyse the above statistics differently. For some, this might be an increase in the crime while for others this could be more reporting of cases as the victims are now getting the courage to come forward.
Sadly, the majority of the sexual harassment cases go unreported as victims try to avoid social embarrassment and as a result, the culprits find another prey and enjoy their life. But whether you report about the mistreatment or not, one thing which is certain is the negativity which is attached to this evil effects everyone even if they are not a part of it. Even there are cases wherein such mistreatment are also witnessed by co-workers. This could be a scary experience for them as on one hand, they feel helpless as they cannot bring justice for the victim and on the other hand, if the culprit is not brought into the light, they could be the next target on his radar.
Well when all other doors of hope get closed, the door of law remains open. In India, the Act through section 4 mandates the employer to set up an Internal complaints Committee in each office or branch to look into the matters regarding sexual harassments in their establishment.
The Committee shall consist of a Presiding Officer who shall be a woman employed at a senior level at the workplace, if not available then from other offices or administrative units of the workplace. In case the other offices or administrative units of the workplace do not have a senior level woman employee, than from any other workplace of the same employer or other department or organization. In addition to above, not less than two Members from amongst employees preferably committed to the cause of women or who have had experience in social work or have legal knowledge. Also, one member from amongst non-governmental organisations or associations committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issues relating to sexual harassment, only if at least one-half of the total Members so nominated shall be women. This way, the victim is not left jobless and helpless.
However, according to section 6 of the Act, in case where due to less than ten workers in the establishment or due to the fact that the complaint is against the employer himself, Internal Committee has not been constituted, every District Officer shall constitute in the district concerned, a committee to be known as the Local Committee to receive complaints of sexual harassment from such establishments
But the question is how many of the corporates or the other workplaces follow the statutory rules. In U.S.Verma v. National Commission for Women [163 (2009) DLT 557], Court made clear that the guidelines by Supreme Court in Vishaka case have to be not only in form but in substance and in spirit and failure to constitute committee will give rise to a cause of action. Likewise, in the case of Ms. G v. Isg Novasoft Technologies Ltd (2014 Madras High Court), no committee was constituted as per the dictate of Supreme Court rather there was an ombudsman and there was a grievance committee. Court held that if the law requires a particular act to be done in a particular manner, it shall be done only in that manner and not otherwise. So, no ombudsman can be a substitute for a committee as required by the Supreme Court to be constituted. If the employer had constituted a Vishaka committee, perhaps the parties would have avoided a series of litigation including civil and criminal and the consequent legal harassment to each other. As per statistics issued by FICCI-EY, 36% of the Indian companies had not constituted ICCs.
Despite the fact that the statute provides for the rigorous penalty in case of non-compliance with the guidelines, it is shocking to know that some of the employers stay unaffected and the suffering of women continues.
We talk about equal treatment to all irrespective of gender but sadly this lesson is just to be read in books and it is a distant image when it could actually turn to be a reality. We keep on waiting for someone to bring a positive change in the society but rather we should be the one to bring that change to make our workplaces a better place to work in. It is the time to tell the harassers- enough is enough because our body is not a public wi-fi to which they can have access to.
By – Mansi Gupta, G.D. Goenka Law School
Content Writer @ Legal Bites