Another Face of the Evil: Harassment at Workplace


In the Women, Peace, and Security Index 2017-18, India ranked 131 out of 153 countries that covered around 98% of the world’s population. The plight of women in the nation is much worse than even in our neighbouring nations, as compared to Pakistan. Indian population comprises 50% of women today. So, if our leaders want an Atmanirbhar Bharat that can compete at the International Forums then it becomes equally important to involve the women of the nation.

No doubt women have started making judicious use of the reservation and employment opportunities available to them. But this is just a step before another shackle of society. Society’s mentality concerning working women is yet another fight for women. They not only face problems like mansplaining, sexist comments, unequal paycheck for an equal amount of work and on top of that, they also face ills like sexual harassment and assault at the workplace.

Workplace harassment was given due recognition in India after the case of Vishaka & Ors vs State Of Rajasthan & Ors, it was observed that Sexual Harassment violates the Fundamental Right of the Equality enshrined under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution and also the Fundamental Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Justice Arjit Pasayat beheld from his beautiful thought that: While a murderer destroys the physical frame of the victim, on the other hand, the rapist defiles the soul of a helpless female.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, was enacted to protect women against sexual harassment at the workplace, and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment and matter connected therewith or incidental thereto. The Vishaka Guidelines were later laid down, which also played the foundation for the said Act. According to the prevalent procedure, employers with 10 or more employees are required to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee, conduct training, and awareness sessions, etc.

Sexual harassment can include someone:

➔ Touching someone inappropriately and without their consent

➔ Promising favour in return for sex

➔ Staring at someone

➔ Displaying inappropriate pictures or videos that may make someone uncomfortable

➔ Making sexual jokes and passing sexist comments

➔ Sending obscene and inappropriate texts to (by your colleague/s)

➔ Making dirty looks and calls

➔ Following the person

➔ Hugging, kissing, patting inappropriately

A major distinction between Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault is that while Sexual Harassment involves unwanted and inappropriate verbal and physical actions towards someone, Sexual Assault involves physical touch and behaviour without the consent of the person. Sexual Assault may lead to attempted rape or rape, forcing someone into oral sex or touching someone inappropriately or at inappropriate places.

Victims of sexual harassment and assault undergo physical and psychological traumas like:

➔ Emotional effects involve: Anger, Fear of humiliation, Guilt, Betrayal, shame etc

➔ Mental health effects: Depression, Panic attacks, PTSD, Suicidal ideation

➔ Physical effects: Disturbed sleep patterns, insomnia, and eating disorder

According to statistics presented by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), of various states, Uttar Pradesh recorded the most sexual harassment cases, with 5,830. Madhya Pradesh followed with 2,985 cases, with Maharashtra placing third, reporting 2,910 cases. Of cities, Delhi recorded the most cases of sexual harassment in India in 2017, with 613, followed by Mumbai, with 391, and Kanpur, with 162. Telangana recorded more cases of sexual harassment in the workplace than any other state. Bihar was the state to record the most cases of sexual harassment on public transport.

While India has made various frameworks to protect women from sexual harassment at the workplace, however, these provisions have been criticized on various grounds.

Non-Uniformity of Damages: The internal committee while deciding the monetary damages on the perpetrator has to make sure that they decide the punitive damages keeping the earnings of the perpetrator in mind. This creates a biased judgment because while a low earning employee shall be paying fewer damages a high earning employee would be paying higher damages.

Limited Ambit: The Act does not cover the men of the armed services. With all due respect to the protectors of our land, it is, however, naïve for us to think that a protector cannot become a violator. Most of the sexual assault cases or rape cases reported involves someone the victim knew. Sexual assault in the United States armed forces is an ongoing issue receiving extensive media coverage and is still an ongoing battle. For India to alienate its daughter from getting justice just because a uniformed man is involved is in itself a shame for the nation.

Gender Biased: The world is developing every day but our laws are not. The need of the hour is to make laws more gender-neutral. To think that men cannot be raped or assaulted is a wrong approach. Various cases have come up where men have come out talking about their mental and physical torture but our law provides an almost negligent solution to these victims.

False Complaints and Consequences: Section 14 of the Act provides for punishing a woman found falsely accusing or having malicious intent to file a complaint. The Verma Committee report stated it as a “completely abusive provision … intended to nullify the objective of the law.” Various experts and activists agreed with the recommendation of the committee stating that the provision was being used more by the accused to further harass and inflict punishments.

Dysfunctional Committees: District local complaints committees are not functioning meaningfully, found a series of Right to Information requests by the Martha Farrell Foundation, a New-Delhi based organization working on gender issues, in 2016 and 2017. However, it is clearly stated under Section 14 that if a person has filed a false complaint then the ICC will award the same punishment to the person who has filed the wrong complaint as per Rule 10.

Quid Pro Quo in Cases of Harassment

Crime is not confined to a man’s imagination. One of how harassment is Quid Pro Quo. The Latin term quid pro quo translates to "something for something."

This kind of harassment takes place at the workplace where an employer in return of employment in return for sexual favours. Also, 95% of India’s women workers are employed in the informal sector and find it difficult to access legal mechanisms to report sexual harassment.

While doing something in return for someone who has done something good for you are always seen as a kind and noble gesture, however, it may not always be the case. Quid Pro Quo in harassment involves questionable demands that are often sexual. For instance: a demand to sleep with the employer, or get fired. Such situations often lead to blackmailing, threatening and constant mental agony of the victim.

An interesting fact to note here is that the quid pro quo form of harassment is not limited to sexual demands. At times it can be non-physical e.g., the employer asks a team head not to give projects to a certain employee to hamper the growth of the employee vicariously, in return for an increase in salary of the team head. This is a form of quid pro quo harassment that affects more than one person.

The very reason for this type of harassment to happen is because of the power play. Authority is the key motivating factor for such harassment. The victim in such cases is dependent on their harasser in some way or the other because of which at times they don’t even report the initial situation of harassment for the fear of losing their job or victim-blaming.

It becomes a major issue in attaining justice since the person involved in such a shameful act is at a higher post or holds a more influential position in the office. However, it is not true that quid pro quo type of harassment cannot be dealt with.

Practices that every workplace needs to incorporate:

➔ Training on harassment and assault

➔ A proper formulated sexual harassment policy for workplace

➔ Awareness among all the employees on the relevant sexual harassment policies and committee. It is the right of an individual to ask for a POSH committee or a committee to look into the allegations or matters of sexual harassment

➔ Zero Tolerance Policy

➔ Reporting such incidents at the first instance

It has never been an easy journey fighting the ills of the patriarchy. And it seems like a never-ending fight. The trauma that sexual harassment and assault bring upon the victim is unexplainable.

In the case of Faiyaz v. State of Maharashtra, the court rightfully decided that: “The object of deterrence in the commission of such a heinous offence cannot be lost sight of while sentencing. Once the accused is convicted, the victim also deserves justice. Dishonour of a woman needs to be eliminated and judicial pronouncement, which imposes a disproportionately lenient sentence, needs to be set aside.”

Our laws are a reflection of our society. It becomes imperative for every nation to make sure that women and children are properly provided for. Women have started coming out of their houses and have started giving stiff competition to their male counterparts even in professions dominated by males. We have some renowned women in every profession like Pinky Anand, Late Smt. Indira Gandhi, Kiran Bedi and many more. These women are a symbol of strength for the rest of the women in our nation.

It is very important that while we stress economic and technological advancement we need to have social advancement in our nation as well. There are a plethora of laws for the protection of women and children but the failure of our system to execute these laws has led to such degradation of the condition of women and children in our nation. It is, therefore, the need of the hour for women to rightfully claim equal opportunities and their right to free and equal working space, as well as for our government and the executive wing to take responsibility as a facilitator of these laws because laws merely on-paper and no real-life execution will never suffice the cause.



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