Sexual harassment is a hazardous issue found in workplaces all over India which has become the main factor in reducing the quality of working life and job turnover. By looking at the present scenario where gender-based violence such as sexual harassment in the workplace is spreading at a thrust all around India. Women in the public sector are more prone to this violence because of the nature of their jobs which involves interaction with their colleagues. Women are brutally harassed by the torturous suppression of not only men but also by the whole society this not only lowers their performance rates but also affects their mental health. Sexual assault of women is becoming one of the most common crimes in India which not only infringes the fundamental rights of women but sometimes in the form of eve teasing, rapes, and sexual harassment at the workplace it leads to suicides and job turnover.
According to International Labour Organization, sexual harassment in the workplace is a barrier to its goal of achieving decent working conditions for all workers. Over the last few years, there has been awareness globally about the existence and extent of sexual harassment of women in the workplace. This occurrence of sexual harassment in the workplace in India is actually infringing the fundamental rights of a woman under Article 19(1) (g) of the Constitution of India. The main issue of sexual harassment at the workplace in India came into major limelight in the Bharati Devi case of 1992, this incident unfolded the traumatic condition of women, with which one has to pass even after being subjected to a heinous crime of rape. The poor functioning of the state machinery was exposed and resulted in the issuance of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, in a landmark judgment by Justice J.S Verma of the Supreme Court. Several statutes on the prevention of sexual harassment were passed such as Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act,2013) (Act No. 14 of 2013), and the main objective of these statutes was that no women shall be subjected to sexual harassment at workplace in India. This paper sets the scene for this issue by examining its nature and the ways in which measures were taken to stop this by the government and Human Rights also. It also discusses the year 2013 going down as a landmark year in Indian history for women's rights protection.
The survey report given by the Centre for Transforming India of 2010 found that 80 percent of the working women in metropolitan cities have been subjected to workplace sexual harassment.
According to the crime report of India by the Home Secretary there has been found a great fall in the crime ratio of 2011 against sexual harassment at the workplace and also a decrease in the average of last five-year analysis.
The Supreme Court defined sexual harassment in the workplace as unwelcome sexual behavior whether directly or indirectly. After the Vishaka case, it passed 12 guidelines that have to be followed by employers.
The Sexual Harassment Act prefers every employer to set up an ICC at every organization and orders the Government to set up a LCC in every district in India for investigating complaints regarding sexual harassment.
There were four basic approaches discussed by Bunch (1990) for women's rights which included civil, socioeconomic, political, and legal as well as feminist transformation rights which help women in preserving their human rights.
In April 2013 IPC was amended to include a new section for sexual harassment i.e., Section 354A which talks about the punishment to be given for this crime, and many more sections under IPC are also involved in dealing with this issue.
Justice J.S Verma's committee provided some of the major recommendations on the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill, 2012 when it was pending in the Parliament for passing.
The experts of the ILO Committee on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, in the general observation on the Application of the Discrimination Convention(1958 No.111) in 2003, presented views on Sexual Harassment and mentioned it as a form of sex discrimination and the need to be addressed with the requirements of the Convention.
The incarnation of Sexual Harassment
Under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act,2013 sexual harassment is defined as “unwelcome sexual gesture or behavior whether directly or indirectly, sexually colored remarks, physical contact, and advances, showing pornography, a demand or request for sexual favors, any other physical verbal/non-verbal conduct being sexual in nature and passing offensive and unacceptable remarks.” The Vishaka guidelines categorically state that it is the duty of the employer or other responsible person in the workplace to: prevent sexual harassment and provide mechanisms for the resolution of Sexual harassment, which is categorized under two heads i.e., quid pro quo sexual harassment which occurs when advances involves threats, bribery or any other conditions of employment and the other type is hostile environment sexual harassment it occurs when harassment affects the person ability to perform his or her job or sometimes when it creates an intimidating, inimical or offensive working environment.
Consequences of Harassment on working women
This affects mostly the:-
- Young girls (14-20 years)
Under the sexual harassment of Women at workplace act, 2013 as this law provides a civil remedy that if the harassment is of criminal nature, the complaint is to be filed with the police:
Under section 354A of IPC, imprisonment for one year which may extend to five years, and with the fine,
under section 509 of IPC if the person utters any word or does any such gesture or act with the intention to insult the modesty of a woman the punishment given is simple imprisonment for three years and with a fine and
Section 294 deals with obscene acts and songs in public places:
In the compendium given by the National Crime Reports Bureau of Home Affairs, the crime rate for sexual harassment is 0.7 with the incidence happening 8,570. Andhra Pradesh has reported 42.7%(3,658 cases) followed by Maharashtra 12.5%(1,071 cases) of total incidences during the year 2011. Andhra Pradesh has reported the highest crime rate (4.3) as compared to the National average of 0.7. The incidents of crime against women was decreasing from 2009 to 2011 it was 11,009 in 2009, 9,961 in 2010, and 8,570 in 2011.
Justice J.S. Verma committee report summary
Before the passing of the bill in the Parliament of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill, 2012 this report gave some major recommendations which were:-
The complainant and the respondent need to first take an attempt at appeasement. Domestic workers should be there in the purview of the bill. Employers should pay compensation to the women who have been harassed. The employer needs to maintain ICC in which the complaints must be filled.
Guidelines on the sexual harassment
The Supreme Court in the Vishaka & others v. State of Rajasthan & others, the case gave 12 guidelines to be followed by the establishments in dealing with the complaints regarding to sexual harassment. As per the guidelines given in this case, the employer is responsible for preventing sexual harassment and as well as taking action on complaints. Following the gang rape case of social worker Bhanwari Devi as she tried to prevent a mass child marriage from taking place in Rajasthan, in this case, the apex court said “Sexual harassment in the workplace was a violation of the Fundamental Rights to equality, life, and practice of a profession of one’s choice.
The Sexual Harassment Act 2013 lays down that women shall not be subjected to sexual harassment in any workplace. The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill (2010) was the first attempt to create legislation to control this crime. It provides complaint and redressal mechanisms in the form of Local Complaints Committees (LCC) in every sub-district and district. The inquiry of the committees gets completed within 90 days and the district officer has to carry out the recommendations made by it within 60 days. If it is violated the bill proposes a fine of Rs.50, 000. The figure1.3 given below shows the procedure to be followed under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
This procedure given below in Figure 3 shows the hierarchal system for the complaints to be done under this act if there is any incidence the complaint goes under the Internal Complaints Committee or Local Complaints Committee and at the end employer is required to act on the decision given by the committee under 60 days and if the respondent is unsatisfied with the decision of the committee he can appeal against it within 90 days of the date of recommendation.
Issues from the Lens of Human Rights
Bunch in 1990 talked about four major approaches for linking women’s rights to human rights. Those were such the rights of women as civil and political rights which talk about general human rights and civil liberty violations, the other socio-economic rights which look at the need to end the economic subordination of women in society to reduce violence and last was the feminist transformation of human rights which focused on making new laws to decrease sex discrimination and to raise the responsibility of the state for decreasing the violation of women’s human rights.
Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) major illustration of this approach, which mainly focuses on maintaining gender balance in public and political life and considers it as a violation of human rights. It is an important human rights treaty for women. India being a federal country it’s the responsibility of both the central and the state governments to look at the status of women and the violation of human rights. The main focus of the Planning Commission is on the development of women in every sector. This issue of sexual harassment of women in the workplace was not a big issue at the international level but International Labour Organization (ILO) considered this as a form of sex discrimination. McCann (2005) added this in the ILO Convention 1958 as discrimination under many grounds including sex.
In today’s modern society where women have started taking up leadership roles which might be a challenge to the men who are in a habit of being in the patriarchal society and hence try to dominate them through harassing them.
It is important to know that there are laws passed to stop the sexual harassment of women in the workplace and employers have to frame new and effective strategies to protect the organization from this social evil. There should be greater public awareness and participation in governance. The most important part is that the government and the other employees should not make any gender discrimination in the workplace. The law also binds the employees to address and act on the complaints as soon as possible in respect of sexual harassment of women in the workplace.
There are three types of intervention that organizations are recommended to follow to reduce and stop sexual harassment of women in the workplace i.e., providing training to the employers and following effective policies, providing a complaint procedure to the applicant, and providing counselors to the persons who have been harassed and to those persons also who have the mentality of being a harasser. Thus sexual harassment can only come to an end with the help of the men of modern society as well as with the help of the government.