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Sexual Harassment At Workplace

Every woman has a right to work in an environment free of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is a form of gender based violence. It violates women`s right to equality at work place. Majority of a women do not take action or lodge an official complaint for fear of being dismissed, losing their reputation or for facing hostility or social stigma in the workplace. The Supreme Court in the case of State of Rajasthan v/s Vishakha (AIR 1997 SC3011 ),gave judicial recognition to the offence of sexual harassment at workplace. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in the Supreme Court by some NGOs in the case of gang rape of a social activist in Rajasthan. The Apex Court laid the guidelines in conformity with the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women(CEDAW). As there was no legislation in India to deal with sexual harassment at workplace the law laid by the Supreme Court became the law of land.(Art.141 of Constitution).It took 14 years for the parliament to pass the legislation. Protection of Women against the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill,2010, was introduced in Parliament on December 7, 2010. Sexual Harassment includes direct or indirect unwelcome behavior or activities ,physical contact, demand or request for sexual favours, sexual advances or any verbal or nonverbal behavior of sexual nature. The government has approved the bill to ensure safe environment for women at work place both in public and private sectors whether organized or unorganized .Women are now able to register formal complaints against various types of harassment such as physical contact, seeking or demanding sexual favours, sexual remarks, showing pornography, demeaning remarks. The Bill provides protection not only to women who are employed but also to any women who enters the work place as a client, customer, apprentice or daily wageworker or in ad hoc capacity. Students, research scholars in colleges/universities and patients in hospitals are also covered. Bill provides for an effective complaint and redressal mechanism. Every employer is required to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC); where it is not feasible to set up ICC due to less number of employees, the bill provides for setting up of local complaints committee (LCC) to be constituted by designated District Officers at District or SubDistrict level. This mechanism ensures that women in any work place, irrespective of its size or nature have access to a redressal mechanism. The LCC will enquire into the complaints of sexual harassment and recommend action to employer or district officer. Employers who fail to comply with the provisions of the bill will be punished with a fine which may extend to 50,000/.

Since, there is a possibility that women may get threat or subject to aggression, she is given the option to seek interim relief in the form of transfer either of her own or the respondent or seek leave from work. The Complaint committees are required to complete inquiries within 90 days. Period of 60 days has been given to the employer/district officer for implementation of the recommendation of the committee. Every employer has the primary duty to implement the provisions of law within his/her establishment while the state and central governments have been made responsible for overseeing and ensuring overall implementation of law. Bill provides for safeguards-in case of false or malicious complaint of sexual harassment. However, mere inability to substantiate the complaint or provide adequate proof would not make the complainant liable for punishment. . There were many consultations with the civil society before drafting of the bill. However, the recommendations of civil society are not incorporated. The Bill presented before the parliament is a government version. It may fail to have any impact on the safety of women at workplace due to lack of stringent penal provision and due to complex mechanism for inquiry. The enactment seeks to ensure safe environment for women at work place both in public and private sectors whether organized or unorganized. Sense of security in workplace will improve womens participation in work resulting in economic empowerment and overall growth.

Written and submitted for publication by, Adv. Manjusha Nayan (Ex-Judge) Vashi.