Decoding Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013

Originally published at www.ungender.in on June 23, 2017.

“The head of the HR department used to call me late night and send me inappropriate messages at work.”

“My boss complimented me on my nail colour and touched my fingers inappropriately.”

Sounds familiar?

This is, more or less, how every reported case about sexual harassment at workplace sounds like.

“Sexual Harassment at workplace”, is a widespread issue and an unwanted social atrocity being committed against a woman. There are numerous women who have faced sexual harassment at some point of time. It might have been at her office, on her way to work or during an official trip.

Sexual Harassment at workplace is an unlawful act which has been spreading like a wildfire for quite a while now. Although Indian women are becoming more economically independent but social empowerment is still a far cry as there is still a feeling of major fear and uncertainty in woman when it comes to reporting a sexual harassment. They are generally in this position where they lack the power to complain against such atrocities for the fear of being subjected to fate worse than the one they are already being subjected to. This includes retaliation, discrimination, fear of losing out on their career or the fear that they may even not be believed.

The past few years has seen an increase in the number of cases being reported, after the enactment of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013 (hereinafter referred to as the “Act”), India’s first piece of legislation to combat Sexual Harassment at Workplace. The fact that the victims of sexual harassment have a law, which was created with the sole intent to hear them out, made a huge difference and brought a much needed respite for the women in workplaces. Now they know that they have a legal mechanism which lists down the mandates about who to approach, how to approach and where to approach. In pursuance to the Act, different types of workplaces now have an Internal Complaint Committee (ICC), which a woman can approach if she is subjected to sexual harassment at workplace. The workplaces which do not have an ICC (due to having less than 10 employees) or were the complaint is against the employer himself, in those cases they can approach the Local Complaints Committee (LCC), which are set up in every district by the State Government in pursuance to the Act, in any case of sexual harassment at workplace.

The presence of a proper authority is what has lead to the increase in the number of reported cases in the recent years. Sexual Harassment is a practice which has been prevalent in the workplaces for decades now. The fact that such acts are now being legally monitored, captured and are taken into account, makes it easier to see the real picture of how it has always been. Unfortunately, we are coming to learn of this now, i.e, 4 years after the enactment of the Act. It is as if finally the radar, which was broken for all these years, has been fixed and now it can capture all the cry for help, giving us a proper figure of this offense being committed. To attest to that fact, a recent analysis by IndiaSpend has showed that there has been an increase in reported cases of harassment in the year 2015. In the year before, between 2013 and 2014, the National Commission for Women reported a 35% increase in complaints from 249 to 336.

Recent times also saw sexual harassment cases being filed against notable people like Infosys ex-director Phaneesh Murthy, ScoopWhoop co-founder Suparn Pandey, TVF’s cofounder Arunabh Kumar, Tehelka’s Tarun Tejpal and the noble prize winner environmentalist R.K. Pachauri. Headlines like these are uncomfortable reminders of the true picture of the workplaces. Thanks to the media, these cases are being viewed or read by people across the nation, giving them a distinct idea about what entails of sexual harassment at workplace and that there are legal repercussions for the same.

The fact still remains that although more women are coming out of their comfort zone and reporting these cases but at the same time, there has also been a rise in the cases of sexual harassment at workplace. It was recently reported by the Business Standard magazine that between 2014 and 2015, cases of sexual harassment within office premises has more than doubled–from 57 to 119–according to National Crime Records Bureau data. There has also been a 51% rise in sexual harassment cases at other places related to work–from 469 in 2014 to 714 in 2015.

The aforementioned statistics are bound to confuse the minds of any common man. There is a distinct rise in the cases of sexual harassment at workplace inspite of the fact that a new statute has been incorporated to combat the same. Why?

There are various reasons why there is an increase in such cases but the most important reason amongst them is: Unawareness

On one hand we have people reporting such cases because of the enactment of the new legislation and on the other hand we have women and workplaces unaware of the existence of such law. The ones who are aware do not about its content. Most of the companies/organisations are not aware of the law. They are not aware of the fact that the legislation mandates certain steps on their part to fight and prevent sexual harassment at workplace. They are not aware of the mechanics and the committees they are required to form as per the Act. Even if they know the law they are unaware of how to implement them.

The mammoth truth also remains that more than half the women percentage of our country, till date, are not very clear about the legal mechanism against combating sexual harassment at workplace. There is barely any sensitization on the actual definition of “sexual harassment”, the behaviors that constitute of sexual harassment and the definition of “workplace.” Their unawareness stems their lack of confidence towards the legal mechanism which in turn results into their fear of being unheard, which again leads to not reporting these crimes.

It was recently revealed in Hindu Business Line that in a survey conducted by the Indian National Bar Association, about 68.9 per cent of victims claimed of not complaining to the superiors due to “fear, embarrassment, lack of confidence in complaint mechanism, unawareness, and due to stigma attached to sexual harassment.”

The above statistics show the current scenario of our country in relation to the execution of the Sexual Harassment Act and everybody’s approach towards it. The nation is in a dire need of awareness with regards to the Sexual Harassment Act, and that is precisely what we aim to do. Hence, we will be authoring a series of articles with the attempt to unfold and simplify the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013. Keep checking our blog for the series in order to acquaint and educate yourself on this Act. Our goal is to spread awareness and to make workplaces better, comfortable and secure.

Author: Anuradha Hazra, Associate (Legal), Team Ungender

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