Sexual harassment at the workplace is a very prevalent and widespread problem in India and many developed countries. No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, which sex you belong to, everybody faces this issue, but most of the victims are women. According to World Health Organization, one in every three women is subjected to either mental or physical harassment once in their lifetime by some known or unknown person around them. Which eventually affects their mental health and physical capacity, this kind of problematic behavior is not only hard to explain by the victims but also by law. Sexual harassment is something that cannot be explained but only experienced.
After the landmark case of Vishaka and Ors. v State of Rajasthan, 1997 in which a petition was filed when a social worker in Rajasthan, was brutally gang-raped for stopping child marriage. The honorable Supreme Court of India came up with Vishaka Guidelines to protect the fundamental rights of women under Article 14,15,19(1)(g) and Article 21. These guidelines gave preventive and punitive measures to be taken in case of an incident. Before the vishaka case, women had to go to the police station to complain under sec 354 and sec 509 of IPC in case of sexual harassment but now you can do it through the internal committee, which is set up by both public and private companies under Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace act, 2013. So let us now understand what is sexual harassment and how our law defines it.
Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, requests, other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. It can be verbal, physical, or written that makes a person feel offended, humiliated, or intimates. The Supreme Court of India defines sexual harassment in the workplace as an unwelcome sexual gesture or behavior, whether directly or indirectly includes:
- Sexually colored remarks
- Physical contact and advances
- Showing pornography
- A demand or request for sexual favors
- Any other unwelcome physical, verbal/non-verbal conduct that is sexual in nature.
But it not only restricts here it also includes many things such as actual or attempted rape or sexual assault, unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, or pinching, unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions, whistling at someone, kissing sounds, howling and smacking lips, touching an employee’s clothing, hair, or body, touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person.
In 2013, the sexual harassment of women at the workplace (prevention, prohibition, and redressal) Act was introduced which was formed based on vishaka guidelines. It defined sexual harassment and released some mandatory provisions that needed to be followed by all workplaces one of which was to form an internal committee where there will be more than 10 employees and this committee will be responsible to address all the grievances ad complaints related to sexual harassment. Senior-level women employee along with two other employees who must have experience working with causes relating to women and one external member of either an NGO or similar organization, half of the total members must be females, will head the internal committee. In the case where the main employer is under the investigation then the district magistrate must form a panel of social workers and NGOs to head the same.
Furthermore, this Committee will have the powers of civil courts for gathering evidence. The Complaints Committees are required to provide for conciliation before initiating an inquiry if requested by the complainant. No members should hold the position for more than three years. This inquiry must be completed within the period of 90 days from the commencement.
The processes of filing a complaint under this act are as follow
- The complaint should be written and must be filed within 90 days of the harassment.
- In case of any incapacity of the victim mental or physical, it can be filed by her co-worker, an officer of the National Commission of Women or State commission, or any other person with the knowledge of the incident. Along with the written consent of the aggrieved woman.
- Before the commencement of the inquiry by the internal committee, a notice must be displayed informing all the employees regarding the same.
- During the course of the inquiry, the complainant can either ask for a transfer or leave for not more than 90days for herself or the respondent.
- The inquiry must not extend more than 90 days.
The scope of this act covers all private and public sector companies and organizations, schools and colleges, places visited during the period of employment and all extend to army men or armed forces. All women who are employed in an organization, client, customer, daily wage worker or any work accomplice, student or research scholar in any educational institutes, patient in the hospital, domestic help, etc. qualifies under this act.
The significance of this act is to create awareness and a safe place for women to work, to promote gender equality, and prevent any discrimination on basis of sex. Most importantly to encourage women to come out and take physical jobs and employment as equal to that of men. This act plays a major role in preventing any mishaps happening towards women.