Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem in India that affects both women and men across the country. Despite various laws, policies, and regulations in place to prevent such incidents, sexual harassment remains a significant issue that needs to be addressed. The #MeToo movement in India has brought this issue to the forefront, and several high-profile cases have led to greater awareness and discussion around sexual harassment. In this article, we will look at some of the key rulings on preventing sexual harassment in India.
Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is a comprehensive law that was introduced to prevent and prohibit sexual harassment at the workplace. The Act defines sexual harassment as any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, including physical contact, advances, demands or requests for sexual favours, or making sexually coloured remarks. The law covers women working in both the public and private sectors.
Under the Act, employers are required to set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to deal with complaints of sexual harassment. The ICC must be headed by a woman and should include at least one external member from a non-governmental organization. The law also mandates that employers provide a safe working environment for women, including the provision of adequate facilities and the implementation of policies to prevent sexual harassment.
The Act also lays down penalties for sexual harassment. The punishment for the first offense can be a written apology, a warning, or a transfer of the accused. In the case of a repeated offense, the punishment can be a fine or termination of employment. The Act also provides for the payment of compensation to the victim in case of sexual harassment.
Before the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 was introduced, the Vishaka Guidelines were the primary source of law on preventing sexual harassment at the workplace. The guidelines were introduced in 1997 by the Supreme Court of India in response to a case of sexual harassment in a government office.
The Vishaka Guidelines require employers to set up a complaints committee to deal with complaints of sexual harassment. The committee must include at least one woman member, and there must be a complaint mechanism in place to enable women to file complaints of sexual harassment.
The guidelines also require employers to provide a safe working environment for women, including the provision of facilities such as restrooms and changing rooms. Employers are also required to implement policies to prevent sexual harassment, and to provide training to employees on sexual harassment.
The Vishaka Guidelines have been superseded by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, but they continue to serve as a guiding principle for employers and employees.
Punjab and Haryana High Court ruling on sexual harassment
In a landmark ruling in 2017, the Punjab and Haryana High Court held that a single incident of sexual harassment can constitute sexual harassment. The ruling was in response to a case where a woman had filed a complaint of sexual harassment against her senior colleague. The woman alleged that the colleague had touched her inappropriately on one occasion.
The court held that a single incident of sexual harassment can create a hostile work environment for the victim, and can also amount to sexual harassment. The court also held that the complaint mechanism provided under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 must be followed in such cases.
The ruling was significant as it clarified the definition of sexual harassment and emphasized the importance of following the due process in cases of sexual harassment.