Sexual harassment is a problem and experienced almost routinely by women in the workplace (as well as on public transport, the streets and other public spaces).There is a need for courts as well as rights advocates to ensure that women’s rights to equality in the workplace are not secured through the regulation of sexual conduct, muzzling of sexual speech, or moral surveillance of women’s lives. A woman who has experienced harassment can directly lodge a complaint with the police, who would register it as ‘outraging of modesty’ under the Indian Penal Code. The police cannot act of their own volition. Cases of sexual assault or harassment require the victim’s involvement in the investigation. It is mandatory for police personnel to register an FIR. Any delay results in departmental action. The Sexual Harassment of Women has in its avowed and overarching desire to protect women, entrusts the establishment and its management with the duty to redress the grievance. Women should feel empowered about making a complaint and see it as their right to do so. Justice is not something that is won through subterfuge.
People also need to come out with determination against such evils and not be a moot spectator wherein a daughter, or a sister, or a wife, or a mother is crying for alms. The fact that the victims of sexual harassment have a law, which was created with the sole intent to hear them out, made a huge difference and brought a much needed respite for the women in workplaces. There is still no proper mechanism in place to address the complaints of sexual harassment of women lawyers in Bar Associations, lady doctors and nurses in the medical clinics and nursing homes, women architects working in offices of the engineers and architects and so on. Such a ruling will gladden the hearts of many professional women who have learnt the art of swallowing the nonsense they experience at work that is often dismissed as harmless “teasing”. Yes, “eve-teasing” is a sexual harassment.
The problem is not the law. It is those who ignore it; those who break it; and those, including the government, who give it “lip service”, in the words of the Supreme Court. It is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe work space for women. This is not only a legal obligation, but is also required for the growth of the organisation. Despite increased public awareness, sexual harassment continues to plague Indian workplaces. If left unchecked, this could be distressing not only to the lives and careers of individual employees but also invariably weaken productivity and the morale of employees. We need something else which legislation cannot provide — the mindset to understand the fears, compulsions, and pressures on women victims. The sexual harassment law does not permit settlement on condition of payment of monetary compensation, but does allow settlement involving an adverse entry in the employee’s record book as well as deduction from his dues. 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. The need of the hour is to change the social attitude towards women and force a comprehensive change in our outlook and thinking regarding women.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)