15 April 2015

The law regarding Sexual Harassment

Authored by Ishita Gugnani

It has been almost 18 years since the Vishakha guidelines came into being and the word “sexual harassment” was recognized by the Supreme Court for the first time. So why are we still talking about it today and every other day? It is because every day the newspapers are filled with atrocities committed against women. Such acts have brought the Indian penal system under scrutiny and numerous changes have been made in our legal system, especially through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013.

Even though, this topic has already garnered quite a lot of attention in recent times, it is important to be aware of what you can do and what protection is offered by law in such cases. This article aims at arming you with all the provisions that protect you against all forms of sexual harassment which we face (or atleast hear about) on a daily basis.

First of all, it is important to know what constitutes “sexual harassment” according to The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. It includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behavior (whether directly or by implication) viz: physical contact or advances, a demand or request for sexual favors, making sexually colored remarks, showing pornography and any unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

Therefore, the next time you are leched at on the street or your boss demands indirect sexual favors, know that you have the right to seek redressal. Do not diminish the seriousness of these acts merely because it is a common occurrence!

So what exactly is the punishment for someone guilty of sexually harassing you under the mentioned definition? Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, after the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, punishes only a man who is guilty of sexual harassment by imprisonment of upto 3 years along with a fine.

What about stalking and voyeurism? The commission of both acts could get away without a sentence before the 2013 amendment. Voyeurism is watching or capturing and further dissemination of an image of a girl engaging in a private act which if watched or captured, amounts to an invasion of her privacy and she is not aware of such invasion. Voyeurism and stalking are punishable for not less than 1 year but upto 3 years under the Indian Penal Code.

What about a situation where the victim consents to the capture of such images but not to their dissemination to any third person? The possession of such images will not be considered an offence but the moment they are disseminated, it classifies as an offence under the same section and is punishable with imprisonment of upto 3 years.

How can sexual harassment at the workplace be prevented? It has become mandatory for every institution to have a Sexual Harassment Cell or an Internal Complaints Committee to address all issues relating to sexual harassment done either at the workplace or while visiting a place arising out of or due to the course of employment including transportation provided by the office. An aggrieved woman can file a complaint within 3 months of the incident (or later, depending on the situation or incident of harassment) and the inquiries for all such cases have to be completed within 90 days.

There are many other aspects to be covered and this article highlights only some such important issues. The need of the hour is to not look at instances of harassment, intimidation and violations of privacy as isolated instances but as part of a systemic discrimination reflected in our laws and also the value and belief systems of our society. Such an approach will go a long way in decreasing such crimes against women and men alike.

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