Sexual harassment of a woman in workplace is of serious concern to humanity on the whole. It cannot be construed to be in a narrow sense, as it may include sexual advances and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. The victims of sexual harassment face psychological and health effects like stress, depression, anxiety, shame, guilt and so on.
India’s first legislation specifically addressing the issue of workplace sexual harassment; the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“POSH Act”) was enacted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, India in 2013 – after 16 years of the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Vishaka & Ors. vs. State of Rajasthan & Ors. (1997 (7) SCC 323). The Act came into force w.e.f. 9th December, 2013. The Government also subsequently notified the rules under the POSH Act titled the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Rules, 2013 (“POSH Rules”). The year 2013 also witnessed the promulgation of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 (“Criminal Law Amendment Act”) which has criminalized offences such as sexual harassment, stalking and voyeurism.
The POSH Act defines ‘sexual harassment’ in line with the Supreme Court’s definition of ‘sexual harassment’ in the Vishaka Judgment. The definition of ‘sexual harassment’ under the POSH Act is wide enough to cover both direct or implied sexual conduct which may involve physical, verbal or even written conduct. The key distinguishing feature is that the conduct is unwanted and unwelcome by the recipient. The definition also includes reference to creating an ‘intimidate, offensive or hostile working environment’. An example would be a work environment where an individual is subject to unwelcome comments about her body type resulting in the woman employee feeling embarrassed and unable to work properly.
The Act has defined what constitutes sexual harassment under Section 2 (n) and under Section 3, has further widened the definition of sexual harassment by providing that any of the following circumstances, related to sexual harassment, may also amount to Sexual Harassment: (1) implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in the victim’s employment; (2) implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in the victim’s employment; (3) implied or explicit threat about the victim’s present or future employment status; (4) interferes with the victim’s work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for her and (5) humiliating treatment likely to affect the victim’s health or safety
The absence of any actual physical contact or the attempt to molest the complainants need not detain one in reading the writing on the wall, as it were. The Petitioner was well past middle age and a teacher who certainly had great influence on the complainants. The lack of details of possible physical advances and any groping and other stealthy sexual advances on occasion, seemingly accidental or by design would hardly be expected to be narrated by the two women. It is, therefore, necessary to read between the lines and understand the difficulty with which the complainants have even ventured to submit the said complaint and only after they had resigned from their positions and were out of the reach of the Petitioner (Dr. S. Thippeswamy Vs. Mangalore University Mangalagangothry, 2011.