Sexual harassment has been prevalent in our society for a long time and is not a new development. Male dominance and patriarchy often lead to discrimination and harassment of the opposite gender. As Article 14 of the Constitution of India states “equality of status and opportunity “ must be secured for all the citizens of the country. Equality is thereby guaranteed by law. With radical changes in the status of women worldwide, there is a need for recognition of women’s legal rights. The Constitution of India, provides under Articles 14, 15 and 21 that there should be no discrimination on the basis of gender, sex,religion etc. Any attacks and discrimination on these bases undermine the principle of equality.
With these changes there is a need to put emphasis on a safe and a congenial working environment for women. Sexual harassment and gender discrimination against women impedes the growth of women and adversely affects their social and economic life. To prevent such gender-based discrimination and to prevent such hindrance in the working culture, India came up with the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The Act is not gender-neutral and provides for protection of women only. Under Section 2(a), the definition for an aggrieved women has been given as:
(a)“aggrieved woman” means—
(i)in relation to a workplace, a woman, of any age whether employed or not, who alleges to
have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment by the respondent;
(ii)in relation to dwelling place or house, a woman of any age who is employed in such a
dwelling place or house
The Constitution of India put much emphasis on gender equality. However, work place sexual harassment was for the first time taken in cognizance by the apex court in the landmark judgment ‘Vishaka Vs. State of Rajasthan’. In this landmark judgment, the apex court mandated particular guidelines and directions for enactment of a law for elimination of such gender-based discrimination. These came to be known as the Vishaka guidelines. As per the Vishaka judgment,‘Sexual Harassment’ includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as:
a.Physical contact and advances
b.A demand or request for sexual favours
c.Sexually coloured remarks
e.Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or nonverbal conduct of sexual nature
Post Vishaka Judgment
After the Vishaka judgment, the court mandated the rules and guidelines passed by it to be followed by the employers. However, there was a need for a Central Act for complete clarity and elimination of any such behaviour in the workplace,whereof for the first time the Draft Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2007 (“Bill”) got approved by the Union Cabinet. The bill received the consent of Lok Sabha in 2012, of Rajya Sabha in 2013 , was signed on 23rd April, 2013 by the president and published in the Gazette of India as Act no. 14 of 2013. The act provides a civil remedy to women, however any woman who is a aggrieved under the act has the right to recourse for both civil and criminal proceedings.
The act directs for the setting up of an Internal Complaints Committee at every office having more than 10 employees. Where the employees strength is less than 10, there needs to be a Local Committee in every district by the office. These committees are formed to address the complaints by the aggrieved women pertaining to sexual harassment at the workplace.
Constitution of the Internal Committee (IC)
The IC is headed by a presiding officer who is a woman employed at a senior level at the workplace amongst the employees. Two further members amongst the employees,an external member from an NGO or an association running committed for the cause of women. half the members of the IC are to be women. The term of such IC members shall not exceed 3 years. A minimum of 3 Members of the IC including the Presiding Officer are to be present for conducting the inquiry.
An aggrieved woman is required to file a complaint to the Internal Complaint Committee(ICC) within 3 months from the date of the incident and in case of series of such incidents within 3 months from the last incident. The committee may also extend such delay of the complaint by further 3 months. Where a woman is incapable of filing a complaint, the legal heirs of such a person may also file the complaint as per Section 6 of the said act.
Acting like a civil court, the committee has to complete the inquiry within 90 days.During such pendency the aggrieved woman is given some interim reliefs. The findings of such an inquiry have to be submitted to the employer/ district officer and the concerned parties. After the allegation has been proved true,the committee has to recommend the employer/ district officer to take action for the misconduct as prescribed under Rule 9 of the rules and may be required to pay such sum to the aggrieved women. The employer is required to act on the receipt of such inquiry within 60 days
Rule 10 of the said rules provides for the committee to recommend the district officer and employer to take action against any false or malicious complaint filed.
Although the act came after a hefty 16 years following the Vishaka judgment, the government has done its job by enacting this law and recognizing the need to provide women a safe and squire healthy working environment where they are at an equal platform as men. However, there is still need for women empowerment through educational programmes which lead to gender equality. Women are fairly confident as compared to the time before and bring up any complaints to the committee established. Every female worker should know that it is employer’s legal duty to provide women employees a safe working environment. All the male employees must understand these kinds of incidents affect the health, confidence and ability of a woman and will also lead her to leaving the job. Henceforth women should not fear to come forward with their problems and promote social acceptability. With awareness programmes women feel the need to play a greater participatory role in governance.
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