Prevention of sexual harassment of Women at work place – A brief study

This article is written by Dr. T. Srinivasa Rao, M.A.LL.M.,PGD IRPM.PhD.(Gold Medal) V Addl. District Judge, Ranga Reddy District

Prevention of sexual harassment of Women at work place – A brief study “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” – Holy Bible.
It is most barbaric and uncivilised act to harass a person on account of opposite sex even in the modern civilised society of 21st Century. Unfortunately we were compelled to enact a Statute entitled “Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013” (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act’) which leads to irresistible conclusion that there is a menace of sexual harassment at workplace in our Country.

The Act came into force on 23rd April 2013. It was enacted to ensure a safe working environment for women. It provides for protection to women at their workplace from any form of sexual harassment and for redressal of any complaints they may have lodged.

The Act will ensure that women are protected against sexual harassment at all work places, be it public or private, organised sector or even the unorganised sector, regardless of their age and status of employment. The act also covers students in schools and colleges, patients in hospital as well as a woman working in a dwelling place or a house.

The Act creates a mechanism for redressal of complaints and safeguards against false or malicious charges also. Under the Act, employers who employ 10 employees or more and local authorities will have to set up grievance committees known as “Internal Complaints Committee” to investigate all complaints. Employers who fail to comply will be punished with a fine that may extent to Rs.50,000/-. If, however, they still fail to form a Committee, they can be held liable for a greater fine. Every employer with a business or enterprise having more than 10 workers will have to constitute a committee known as ‘Internal Complaints Committee’ (ICC) to look into all complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace. Further, in every district, a public official called the District Officer will constitute a committee known as the ‘Local Complaints Committee’ (LCC) to receive complaints against establishments where there is no Internal Complaints Committee or there being a complaint against the employer himself. This committee would further handle all complaints of sexual harassment in the domestic sphere as well as those coming from the unorganised sector.

Pursuant to the direction issued by the Supreme Court in Binu Tamta’s case (2013), it notified The Gender Sensitisation and Sexual Harassment of Women at the Supreme Court of India (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Regulations, 2013 and directed all the High Courts to frame similar Regulations/Guidelines on par with the Supreme Court of India Regulations for redressal of the complains of sexual harassment of women at work place, and pursuant to the directions of Hon’ble Supreme Court, the Hon’ble A.P. High Court has framed the Guidelines/Regulations relating to the Gender Sensitization and Sexual Harassment of Women at the High Court as well as to the Subordinate Courts, Tribunals, A.P. Judicial Academy, and A.P. State Legal Services Authority under the Administrative control of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Regulations, 2013. Many High Courts notified such regulations and formed their complaints committees.

Origin of the Act:
The Act was formed firstly on the basis of the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in its landmark judgment, Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan (where sexual harassment was first defined), and secondly India is a signatory to the Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)-an international document. Thirdly, our Constitution provided Safeguards to Working Women as follows:
1. Gender equality includes protection from sexual harassment and right to work with dignity in safe working environment as per our constitution.
2. Extra hazard for a working woman compared her male colleague is clear violation of the fundamental rights of Gender Equality & Right to Life and Liberty (Art. 14, 15, 19 (g) and 21 of Constitution of India).
3. The right to work as an inalienable right of all working women.
4. The right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction (pregnancy, maternity & nursing, etc.,) is fundamental right of working women.
5. To provide new initiatives of education and advancement of women and girls in all spheres of life.

Origin of the Regulations, 2013:

Objects of Regulations 2013:
1. Sensitization against discrimination on basis of gender and the protection against sexual harassment and he right to work with dignity are universally recognized human rights by internally conventions and instruments such as convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, which has been ratified on the 25th June, 1993 by the Government of India;
2. To make provisions for giving effect to the Constitution of India and the said convention for protection of women against sexual harassment at District Courts & Subordinate Courts, Tribunals, A.P. Judicial Academy and A.P. State Legal Services Authority;
3. No woman shall be subjected to sexual harassment at the precincts of the District Courts & Subordinate Courts, Tribunals, A.P. Judicial Academy and A.P. State Legal Services Authority.
I. What is sexual harassment:
“Sexual Harassment” includes anyone or more of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour (whether directly or by implication) namely:
i. Physical contact and advances;
ii. A demand or request for sexual favours;
iii. Making sexually coloured remarks;
iv. Showing pornography;
v. Sending undesirable sexually coloured, written messages, text messages, e-mail messages; or any such messages by electronic, manual or other means;
vi. Stalking or consistently following aggrieved woman in the High Court precincts and outside;
vii. Voyeurism including overt to tacit observation by the respondent by any means of the aggrieved woman in her private moments;
viii. Any conduct whereby the respondent takes advantage of his position and subjects the aggrieved woman to any form of sexual harassment and seeks sexual favours specially while holding out career advancements whether explicitly, as an incentive or a natural result of submitting to the insinuations/demands of the Respondent;
ix. Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non verbal conduct of sexual nature;
x. Implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in her legal career;
xi. Implied or expicit threat of detrimental treatment in her legal career;
xii. Implied or expicit threat about her present or future legal career;
xiii. Interfering with her work or creating an intimidating, offensive hostile work environment for her, etc., or
xiv. Any treatment having a sexual colour or content likely to affect her emotional and/or physical health or safety.

II. What is work place:
Whole premises under the control of the Presiding Officers of concerned District and Subordinate Courts, Tribunals, A.P. Judicial Academy and A.P. State Legal Services Authority.

III. Who is victim:
“Aggrieved Woman” means, any female, of any age, whether employed or not, who claims to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment by any person in the precincts of District Courts and Subordinate Courts etc.,

IV. Who is Respondent:
A person against whom the aggrieved woman has made a complaint under the present Regulations.

V. How to set the law in motion and procedure:
9. Any aggrieved woman may make a complaint in writing of sexual harassment at the precincts of the District Courts and Subordinate Courts, Tribunals, A.P. Judicial Academy and A.P. State Legal Services Authority to the GSICC (hereinafter referred to as Gender Sensitization & Internal Complaints Committee) through the Member Secretary of the committee.

10.On receipt of the said complaint the Member Secretary shall place the same before Chairperson of the committee who shall place the same before GSICC for consideration.

11. On receiving a complaint and upon being satisfied with regard to the genuineness of the complaint, the GSICC shall constitute an internal sub-committee to conduct a fact finding inquiry.

12.The internal sub-committee shall conduct an inquiry and shall hear and duly record the statements of the aggrieved woman, the Respondent, and any other person the said parties wish to examine, subject to the provisions of Regulations 13 (2), and thereafter.

13. It shall prepare a Report and enclose therein the complete proceedings of the Inquiry.

14.On the completion of an inquiry under these Regulations, the Committee shall submit the Inquiry Report of its findings and it may recommend for taking appropriate action.

15.Where the sub-committee arrives at the conclusion that the allegation against the Respondent has not been proved, no action is required to be taken in the matter.

16.Where the sub-committee arrives at the conclusion that the allegation against the Respondent has been proved, it may recommend for taking appropriate action for gender discrimination and/or sexual harassment.

17.Upon consideration of the material on record and the Inquiry Report, if more than two-thirds of the members of GSICC differ from the conclusion of the subcommittee, it shall after hearing the aggrieved woman and Respondent in person, record its reasons to so differ and take consequent action accordingly.

18. The Chairperson shall pass orders either accepting or rejecting the Inquiry Report of the Committee and thereafter pass consequent orders that may be appropriate and necessary for putting an end to the sexual harassment and take all steps to secure justice to the victim of sexual harassment.

19. For the purposes of making an inquiry, the ICC shall has similar powers as a civil court – it can summon and enforce attendance of any person, examine him on oath, order production of documents, etc., to the Chairperson.

VI. Orders on Inquiry Report:
The Chairperson shall have the power to pass the following orders to secure justice to the victim of sexual harassment: Admonition with publication of such admonition; Prohibition from harassing the victim in any manner including, but not limited to, prohibition from communicating with her in any manner such as phones, messages, electronic means physical or other means for a specified period; Debarment of entry into the precincts; Recommend filing of a criminal complaint and/or a disciplinary complaint before the concerned disciplinary authority governing the Respondent (including the concerned Bar Council for taking appropriate action).

VII. The Regulations, 2013 are not in derogation with any other law:
(15) The provisions of these Regulations shall be in addition to and not in derogation of the provisions of any other law for the time being in force.

(16) The provisions of the present Regulations shall not bar any Court from taking cognizance of any offence punishable under any other enactment or law.

VIII. Interim Relief:
1. On the receipt of a complaint and during the pendency of an Inquiry, on a written request made by the aggrieved woman, the GSICC if it considers it fit and proper may recommend specific interim measures to be taken in a signed decision to the Chairperson, who on receipt thereof may pass such interim orders that may be required for the personal safety and for safeguarding the dignity of the aggrieved woman, and both the aggrieved woman and the Respondent shall be bound by the same.

2. Upon disobedience, defiance or violation of the order passed under clause (1) above by the Respondent, the GSICC shall close and/or strike off the defence of  the Respondent and pass final orders under Regulation 10 (5) and Regulation

IX. Appeal/Representation:
Any person aggrieved by the order passed (or not passed) by the GSICC under Regulation 11 (1) or recommendation made by GSICC to the Chairperson under Regulation 11 (2) or non-implementation of such orders or inaction thereupon, the aggrieved party may make a representation to the Chairperson, who shall have the power to set aside or modify the orders passed and also have the power to issue such orders or directions that may be necessary to secure complete justice to the victim of sexual harassment.

The reason why sexual harassment at work place is rampant in our Country is firstly, degrading moral and ethical values. Secondly, lack of education, that is why Dr. Prakash Kothari, a sexual medicine expert said “For an average MBBS student in our country, the level of knowledge on sexual education is as good as that of a lay person, that sexual education is more about how an individual develops into a healthy and responsible adult capable of using innate sexual instincts to the fullest potential without being obsessed about it. It enables one to identify and be comfortable with one’s sexuality.” Thirdly, the use of electronic media and internet which appeal to the prurient interest of male members. Fourthly, ours being a male dominated society underestimates the capabilities of women employees and ultimately it leads to gender discrimination. Therefore, whenever a male person sees the face of a female at the workplace, he shall cultivate the habit of seeing in her the resemblance of his sister, mother or daughter, then only he can ensure a safe working environment for women because she is as much educated as a male and she has dreams and aspirations just as a male because she is also a human being as a male person.

Now the “Regulations, 2013” is certainly a boon for women at workplace. So sexual harassment of women at workplace is not only a sin, a crime but also a social-evil, hence it should be prevented forthwith.

Dr. T. Srinivasa Rao, M.A.LL.M.,PGD IRPM.PhD.(Gold Medal)
V Addl. District Judge, Ranga Reddy District