Sexual harassment at the workplace is a cause of concern because people need to have a safe environment everywhere, be it home, streets or workplace. With the growth of the women strata in the corporate sectors and office environment, it aims at the protection. It was important that remedies are made available to women. Right to have a safe working environment as a right cannot be muddled. A survey conducted by the Indian National Bar Association reveals the percentage of both male and female victims of sexual harassment to be 69.
In recent times, the harassment at the workplace has become an important growing concern in companies. The complaints until recently were only dealt with by the departmental proceedings by the employer and thus provision making justice indifferent and incomplete. Statutorily, section 354 and Section 509 of IPC are the only remedies available. Companies generally prefer remaining silent about the matter since it will harm their reputation and as a result their financial position, and the work product.
VISHAKA AND ORS V. STATE OF RAJASTHAN
For the first time, in lieu of this case, sexual harassment at the workplace was considered to be an infringement of the human right, the year 1997, 18 years after the incident happened. A social worker from Rajasthan named Bhanwari Devi was brutally raped by the men of the upper class for openly protesting against the illegal act of child marriage.
A PIL was filed by 4 women groups and Vishaka in the Supreme Court to implement the fundamental rights (Article 14, Article19 and Article 21). This extended its applicability to the workplace after the accused was acquitted by the trial court. Her stopping the child marriage was considered to be a duty because she was a Rajasthan State Government employee and a worker of Women Development program.
This case laid down the guidelines (vishaka guidelines) and has given a more concrete definition of sexual harassment. Reliability was placed on conventions to eliminate discrimination in all forms. Adding on, Supreme Court provided for guidelines as “duty of the employer to prevent the acts of sexual harassment in the workplace, provide for a procedure for resolution, set up a complaint mechanism by establishing a complaint committee in the workplace for redressal. This was aiming at creating awareness by holding various programs and educating the employees with regard to the equal rights of the female employees. These guidelines expressly prohibit sexual harassment by, establish appropriate working conditions for women.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT WORKPLACE ACT,
The sexual harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act (hereafter referred to as the ‘Act’) was enacted in 2013 which lays its basis on the Vishaka Guidelines. In the same year came forth the POSH rules and the Criminal Law Amendment Act (criminalizing sexual harassment).
The purpose act is not meant only for working women but specifically about an act done in a workplace against a woman, the place can a private or a government office (includes hospitals, sports societies, stadiums).
- Definition of Sexual harassment: It includes direct or any implication, any unwelcome sexual behaviour such as
- Physical Contact and advances
- Demand or request for a sexual favour
- Sexually coloured remarks
- Showing pornography
- Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
- Committees: According to the act, there need to be two committees: If an office or branch has been computed with 10 or more employees then an Internal Complaints Committee needs to be formed. Of the nominated members, one-half members nominated should be women. Similarly, a Local Complaints Committee (LCC) needs to be formed at each district by the District office.
Even if a company has never faced such a situation, it has to still comply with the provisions of this act and form committees as required. The complainant has the discretion of opting to complain at the LCC or institute a criminal case. The committee has been vested with the powers of the civil court for collection of evidence. other functions of the committee include examining the oath, summoning, enforcing attendance, requiring the discovery and production of documents.
The very first and concrete suggestion to be thought of is a gender-neutral act and not an act which only protects women because this puts male society in a very dicey situation where a crime happened to them cannot be reported.
A major difference between the existing provision of the Indian Penal Code and the act is with regard to Suo Motto action. The employer under the act can initiate action only after it receives an oral or written complaint, also an employer is bound by the desires of the complainant. In IPC sexual harassment is a cognizable offence and the police inspector can take Suo motto action.
Thus, for any act, the most important objective is to create awareness and make the act serve the apt purpose. One hundred per cent can result to achieve the purpose.
Since now it is implemented statutorily, the efficiency of performance of the Act and of the employer with regard to a complaint is increased. Many have aptly followed the guidelines of the Act, whereas many are yet to abide by it. More such positive steps need to be taken to protect the citizens of the nation. Therefore, The media, law-makers, and citizens have also played a profound role in developing India a safer place for people.
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