Sexual Harassment at the Workplace

 

Krishna Thakkar is a second year BLS student from Pravin Gandhi College of Law and stands by writing to express her thoughts. She is a creative writer as well and believes that we, all as humans, perceive differently

ALONGSIDE MY WORKING DESK

To the little girl in hijab,

To the Secretary in a short skirt,

To the intern in sleeveless formals,

To the housekeeping in uniform,

To all the women in a multistory building,

SORRY… On behalf of all the men working alongside, sharing the same work space,

It gets us men enthralled in harassing women at our workplace…

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines workplace sexual harassment.“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly/implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”

In India, before 1997, there were no formal guidelines for how an incident involving sexual harassment at workplace should be dealt with by an employer. Women experiencing sexual harassment at the workplace had to lodge a complaint under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with the ‘criminal assault of women to outrage her modesty’ and Section 509 that punishes an individual/s for using a ‘word, gesture or act intended to outrage the modesty of a woman’. These sections left the interpretation of ‘outraging women’s modesty’ to the discretion of the police officer.

It was the Supreme Court’s judgement in the ‘Vishakha and others v/s State of Rajasthan’ case that proposed guidelines to alleviate the problem of sexual harassment in 1997. Sexual harassment, a concept that was dormant and held no place in the law books until 2013 when the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 was passed.

It is to be noted that the Vishakha guidelines were not sufficient for legal compliance for employers and thus we see a very visible gap between the occurrence of the Vishakha case and the implementation of the Act which took more than a decade to come into effect and provide relief to the victims.

But the question that remains unanswered is that even after the implementation of this Act, does it only stand “implemented” in name and on paper? Can this Act mitigate sexual assaults that haunt women at workplaces? Can women fall back on the Act?

To the men in my work space,

I am the voice of all the women you get enthralled about,

Neither do we want your touch nor gaze….

All that we demand is RESPECT…

Women at their workplaces still go through their worst nightmares only because of the Act either not being implemented thoroughly or that these cases go unreported. The Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act requires an employer to set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) at each office or branch having more than 10 employees of any gender. The Government is also required to set up a Local Complaints Committee at the district level to investigate complaints regarding from establishments where the ICC has not been constituted on account of the establishments having less than 10 employees or if the complaint is against the employer itself.

If an employer fails to constitute the ICC or does not comply with the provisions contained in the Act, the POSH Act prescribes monetary penalty of up to INR 50,000 and a repetition of the same could result in the punishment being doubled or de-registration of the entity or revocation of any statutory business licenses.

It is ironical that in India, land of Goddesses we worship deities like Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kali and Durga…. and disrespect women at the same time. In an era where women are working and have reached the skies making a mark for themselves, their safety is of utmost importance not because they are vulnerable and fragile but because it is a moral obligation to respect women as a WOMAN….

Opinions expressed are of the bloggers.

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