Sexual Harassment at Workplace

Article for Blog Post Writing Competition 2011 | by Shivam Hargunani & Akshita Shrivastva


May 15th, 20119:53 am


Sexual harassment is basically going beyond the limit of tolerable sexual approach. The term ‘sexual harassment’ means “a type of employment discrimination consisting in verbal or physical abuse of a sexual nature.”[1] It is a demonstration of power and this is why women are more vulnerable to it. It is tragic to know that such a problem exists in the world today. This develops a sense of fear in the minds of the citizens. Sexual harassment in other words is therefore, explicit sexual influence. It affects all women in some form or the other. Sexual harassment is one of the biggest problems now emerging in the corporate sector. We really need to curb this problem.  This fear troubles not only women but men. Although we associate women with such a kind of problems but now-a-days even men are facing such problems at workplace. It is of utmost importance that we should really work and see what the causes of this problem are and what the difficulties they are going through are.

There are many laws to protect against harassment at work place but still there is much more that can be done. “Despite very widespread training and information efforts that have successfully raised workforce sensitivity to the issues surrounding sexual harassment, the persistence of this amount of unwanted sexual attention in the Federal workplace suggests that the government’s programs to eradicate the problem need some serious re-examination.”[2]

It is the primary sense of duty of the employer or the manager to put a stop to the performance such acts of sexual harassment. It is his responsibility to provide the required measures for such a prohibition.

There have been certain cases dealing with this issue and have set precedents as well. In case of Rupan Deol Bajaj v. K P S Gill[3] in 1998, Rupan Deol Bajaj who was a senior IAS officer was slapped by K P S Gill, the Chief of the Punjab Police in front of everyone at the dinner party. She filled the case despite the public opinion that she was overstating the facts. Also, the senior officials made attempts to suppress the matter as far as possible. The matter went to Supreme Court. Supreme Court laid down its decision of fine Rs. 2.5 lacs and imprisonment of 3 months to K P S Gill under sections 294 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code. Another case in this regard was N Radhabai v. D. Ramchandran[4] in 1955, Radhabai was the Secretary to D Ramchandran. D. Ramchandran was the then social minister for state. Radhabai protested against his boss’s abuse of girls in the welfare institutions. She claimed that  Ramchandran attempted to molest her and later dismissed her from the job. The Supreme Court laid down its decision in favour of Radhabai, with back pay and perks from the date of dismissal.

“In 1997, the Supreme Court of India, for the first time, recognised sexual harassment at the workplace as a violation of human rights. The landmark Vishaka judgement outlined a set of guidelines (Guidelines on Sexual Harassment at the Workplace) for the prevention and redress of complaints by women of sexual harassment in the workplace. The guidelines place the responsibility on employers to provide a safe work environment to their women employees and include both preventive and remedial measures to make the work environment safe for women employees.”[5]The Apex Court has given these mandatory guidelines, known as Vishaka Guidelines, for resolution and prevention of sexual harassment enjoining employers by holding them responsible for providing safe work environment for women; the issue still remains under carpets for most women and employers.[6]

In Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan[7] sexual harassment was defined as any unwelcome sexually determined behavior (whether directly or by implication) as physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favors, sexually-colored remarks, showing pornography or any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

Then came the case of Apparel Export Promotion Council v. AK.Chopra.[8]It was the first time when Supreme Court had applied the guidelines laid down in Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan[9].

Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of an officer from Apparel Export Promotion Council. He was found guilty of harassing at women at his workplace on the ground that it violated Article 21 of Indian Constitution.

Providing safe working environment is a legal duty of the employer. Women should get surroundings which sexual harassment. If it exists, employer should be held vicariously liable. The employer should seek why the women employees remain silent about sexual harassment. If there are no complaints about sexual harassment, it does not necessarily mean that there is absence of it. The reason could be that they might feel that there is no use of complaining. “What should be done instead, then? The abuse of civil rights codes and tribunals in this arena should also be ended, leaving them to deal with real racial and gender discrimination. Finally, the genuine crimes and harmful behaviour that have been lumped together with dirty words and pictures should be handled by the criminal and civil law – and those systems should be suitably sensitized to harm they may have ignored in the past. “Sexual harassment” must be eliminated.”[10] We should work towards eliminating this social issue of harassment. It could be done by speedier trial in the cases involving harassment. Lady Judges should be appointed to hear such cases so that there is someone who could understand their plea in an empathising manner and also so that the women who are harassed do don’t feel shy or scared when coming to the court.

There are many laws to protect against harassment at work place but still there is much more that can be done to reach to our end result i.e., eradication of harassment at workplace. There should be more campaigns and public awareness techniques so that more people can come to know about their rights and should feel secure while going to work.

If we are able to achieve what we desire then the output that can be received from an employee would increase as there will be more security at workplace. This increased security will directly result in the increase of utilisation of human resources. Thus the work efficiency will increase thereby increasing the economy of our country. Increased economy will lastly help in the betterment of our country converting our country from a developing to a developed one.


[1] Black’s Law Dictionary (9th Ed., 2009)

[2] Sexual Harassment in the Federal work place. Available at-http://www.mspb.gov/netsearch/viewdocs.aspx?docnumber=253661&version=253948&application=ACROBAT.

[3] Rupan Deol Bajaj v. K P S Gill 1996 AIR 309, 1995 SCC (6) 194

[4] N Radhabai v. D. Ramchandran 1995 SC 238

[5] Paramita Chaudhuri, Sexual Harassment in the Workplace- Experience of Women in Health Sector, 2006. Available at – www.popcouncil.org/pdfs/wp/India_HPIF/001.pdf.

[6] Neetu Raymond, Sexual Harassment at Work, Combat Law, Volume 2, Issue 3 August-September (2003). Available at – http://hrln.org/admin/issue/subpdf/Sexual_Harrassment_at_Workplace.pdf

[7] (1997) 6 SCC 241

[8] Apparel Export Promotion Council v. AK.Chopra AIR 1999 SC 625

[9] Vishaka v State of Rajasthan, AIR 1997 SC 3011

[10] F. M. Christensen,  “SEXUAL HARASSMENT” MUST BE ELIMINATED, Public Affairs Quarterly Vo lume 8, Number 1, January 1994. Available at – www.jstor.org/stable/40435864.

 

Article by –

Shivam Hargunani and Akshita Shrivastva

Students, BBA. LLB, National Law University, Orissa

[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]

 

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