In India, gender discrimination is as old as the human race. From time immemorial women are considered weak by society, and at the same time, men are considered alpha and superior in every field. The working environment in India is not so different considering these factors. All the top spots in any company or workplace are reserved for Men. Women not only suffer discrimination but also suffer from harassment at their workplaces. The term sexual harassment was first coined in the mid-’70s however the practice of sexual harassment of women at the workplace are centuries old. There are various contexts in which men try to establish sexual relations with women who worked with or for them, ranging from assault to all kinds of unwanted physical or verbal harassment.
In India, the issue of sexual harassment has always been overlooked. Even during the time of the “MeToo” movement where victims of sexual harassment shared their stories and led to the exposure of several public figures worldwide, from politicians, businessmen, professionals to the entertainment industry, and beyond. Even after such moments, the practice of sexual harassment did not stop.
Sexual harassment at workplace is completely unacceptable crime. No women must be subjected to sexual harassment at any workplace. It is a violation of women’s right to equality, life and liberty. It creates an insecure and adverse work environment that hinders women’s participation in work, which adversely affect their social and economic empowerment and the goal of comprehensive growth.
It took India almost 50 years after independence to come up with a proper definition for what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace, it was the landmark case of Vishakha Vs. State of Rajasthan where the honourable Supreme Court of India in it’s judgement, defined sexual harassment. This Judgment came as an outcome of gang rape of a social worker in Rajasthan, who had opposed certain discriminatory practices. The focus of the case shifted from a criminal wrong to a systematic gender discrimination which needed a complete revolution. The judgement of the cases brought various guidelines to protect women from harassment at workplace. However a huge number of cases have appeared before various high courts of India
and occasionally Supreme Court as well with reference to the Vishakha Guidelines, these seek the establishment of complaints committees, dispute the constitution of complaints committees have already been in place, or challenge orders of dismissal based on the decisions of these committees. Also there were various cases reported of false harassment, where women have filed several false complaints adhering to the guidelines of Vishakha’s case.
With all of these instances India certainly needed some strict laws which support women to take their rightful place in society and which also protect men from suffering due to false allegations.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013 is a welcome addition amongst the class of such laws. It has received both widespread praise and flak in recent times. The act is revolutionary in every sense but it has come under scrutiny because its narrow scope, exploitation of men though not a common practice in India. Is also not unheard of. One of the most important thing that came under the act was that it improve the status of the labour class or the housemaids whose rights were tough to protect even in the Vishakha guidelines, have been given proper redressal mechanisms so that their rights are also protected.
This law is certainly a step in the right direction. What it requires are public awareness, sensitivity and strong implementation. When any incident happens people should not become judgemental against the woman or the man. The due process should be followed.
There should also be a Men’s Commission in place so that even men have the right to address their grievances in a systematic manner. As the job of the Act is to bring equality not to suppress any gender.
BY- ARVIND PANDA