Covid 19, Extended Lockdown, Economic impact of the lockdown, recovery path, these are the current topics of on which we are being flooded with riveting discussions and articles . But , in spite of the grave pandemic scenario in the world, there is still coverage on the unpalatable topic of sexual harassment of women. The taboo topic which was discussed in hushed whispers has now acquired such grave importance that a separate Law has been passed in 2013 to deal with the instances of harassment, and the offenders, and dispense justice to the victims.
What is Sexual Harassment at Work Place?
Ministry for Women and Child Development, Government of India has issued a handbook on Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace. According to this handbook, sexual harassment includes any one or more of the following acts or behavior (whether directly or by implication)
The following two points go hand in glove with the above inclusive definition
1. Work place sexual harassment is unwelcome and the impact is subjective, and,
2. It is the impact which matters and not the intent.
While common sense decrees that sexual harassment is a subjective experience, the intent behind the acts are also subjective. What the man views as a harmless act may be viewed by a woman as having an underlying threat. This view has been endorsed by the learned court in the judgement delivered in the case of Dr.Punidha K Sodhi Vs Union of India, in the year 2010.
Background to the Sexual Harassment at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act.
Prior to 1997, women in India subjected to sexual harassment could seek recourse only under section 354 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with “criminal assault of women to outrage women’s modesty” and section 509 which punishes an individual or individuals for using a word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman. The interpretation of the acts of misdemeanor where also left to the discretion of the police officer.
The impetus to bring in formal guidelines to protect women from sexual harassment at workplace was sadly due to the gang rape by five men of Bhanwari Devi a social worker in a rural development program to curb child marriages by the State Government of Rajasthan. Bhanwari Devi tried to stop the solemnising of the marriage of a one year old infant, but failed and was instead punished for her efforts by the father of the child and four other men by rape. The bold Bhanwari Devi along with a collective of women’s groups and NGO’s under the platform of VISHAKA crusaded for the cause of women and lead to what is recognized as one of ten landmark judgements that changed India – THE VISHAKA GUIDELINES. These guidelines laid down the requirements for employers dealing with complaints of sexual harassment.
To Continue…Part 2