Sexual Harassment at workplace in India-do our Indian laws effectively prevents this issue: a brief Analysis

by Shinjinee Namhata

Sexual Harassment at workplace is a phenomenon that is very common throughout the world. In India too, sexual harassment at workplace is prevalent issue which possess a major challenge with respect to honour and safety of the workmen. In India, there was neither a specific legislation nor concrete guidelines governing prevention, protection or redressal of sexual harassment at workplace. The only option available was filing a criminal case under Section 354 or Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code, 1870. Sexual harassment at a workplace is considered violation of women’s right to equality, life and liberty. It creates an insecure and hostile work environment, which discourages women’s participation in work, thereby adversely affecting their social and economic empowerment and the goal of inclusive growth. The law to check sexual harassments at workplace which prescribes strict punishment and includes termination of service in case of a queer complaint came into force on December 2013. 

The act was implemented by the Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry after a long delay. The Act came to be known as the ‘The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act’, 2013 which was mainly based on the ‘Vishaka guidelines.’ There arise several major issues of women safety at workplaces. The Act ensures that women are protected against sexual harassment at the workplaces, be it in public or private. This contributes to the notion of their right to gender equality, life and liberty and equality in working conditions. This Act clearly insights upon what all acts can be called as sexual harassment, how it can be prevented, how can a complaint be lodged against the accused and also about the punishments to be given to the accused. It also enlightens upon who all can be called as ‘aggrieved women’. The Act makes it mandatory for all offices with 10 or more employees to have an internal complaints committee to address grievances in a stipulated time or face penalty and there are several procedures thereafter.

 A thorough critical analysis can be done about this major Act. This Act has many loopholes. India is mainly an agrarian economy. But the act doesn’t consider women agricultural workers. Moreover, the Bill does not cover women in the armed forces; although clause 3(1) of the Act says, ‘No woman shall be subjected to sexual harassment at any workplace’. Here the word ‘any’ was in major question. In a workplace like a corporate office, there may arise several issues between a woman employee and her male boss. The woman can file fake complaint on him for personal benefits. But the Bill doesn’t include provisions for penalizing such a complainant as false complaint. This is the most under-reported crime. 

In present days, there are reported many such cases where a woman acts as a victim of sexual harassment and intentionally files suit against him, it may be because of personal gains or any others and which is hidden. As a result, an innocent person is held liable. There must be a certain provision in the Act relating to this aspect. Besides this fact, there exists another important aspect which must be looked into. The Act only covers women thereby implying that only women can be sexually harassed. The Act is based on the premise that only female employees needed to be safeguarded. There are various reports that suggest that even men and transgender people could be sexually harassed. 

A growing number of reports are coming about men being sexually harassed by both male and female co-workers at workplace. The present Act hardly contain any recognition of male victim and female perpetrators. It is important to understand that sexual harassment is not about sex or gender, it is only about power. In the current day with more women coming to powerful positions in the workplace, it is possible that a woman can be equally as abusive as a man. 

The Act ‘Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act,2013’ talks about Right to Equality but speaking from this side, it no doubt violates it. Further, there is a lack of knowledge of the Act in the organizations and hence essentially the Act isn’t implemented. The Act is present in paper, but the implementation rate is extremely low. Additionally, the ambit of the Act is not wide enough to cover harassment by the boss or colleagues at a party as the Act entails only sexual harassment during the course of employment. According to me, the Act needs amendment to remove all the ambiguities and take into consideration both male and female in order to fulfil the condition of Right to Equality.

The present Act only speaks about the sexual harassment of women at workplace. Even after passing of the Act many high-profile cases are reported. For effectively preventing these types of problems, not just legislation are enough, effective participation from the public side is also equally important. Although the Act does provide for a redress mechanism within the workplace, it is not short of loopholes, as mentioned above. It is important that proper implementation of the Act is done, awareness regarding the Act is created and the employers undertake prevention mechanism as provided under the Act in order to ensure gender equality and provide safe working environment for both women and men.

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