Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace


    In News

    • Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) condemned red tape in sexual harassment cases.

    Court’s Stand

    • SC held, the right against sexual harassment at the workplace is part of the fundamental right to a dignified life (Article 21) and it takes a lot of courage for a subordinate to overcome the fear to speak up against a lewd superior. 
    • Hence, Courts and Government officials should try not to make the process a punishment for victims.
    • At times, the court turns the legal process into punishment in cases under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013.
      • This Act is transformative legislation, which penalises several misconducts of a sexual nature and imposes a mandate on public and private organisations to create adequate mechanisms for redressal.

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

    • Highlights of the Bill:
      • Define: 
        • The Bill defines sexual harassment at the workplace and creates a mechanism for redressal of complaints.  
        • It also provides safeguards against false or malicious charges.
      • Obligation: 
        • Every employer is required to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee at each office or branch with 10 or more employees.  
        • The District Officer is required to constitute a Local Complaints Committee at each district, and if required at the block level.
      • Complaint Committees: 
        • The Complaints Committees have the powers of civil courts for gathering evidence.
        • The Complaints Committees are required to provide for conciliation before initiating an inquiry if requested by the complainant. 
      • Punishment: 
        • Penalties have been prescribed for employers.  
        • Non-compliance with the provisions of the Act shall be punishable with a fine of up to Rs 50,000.  
        • Repeated violations may lead to higher penalties and cancellation of licence or registration to conduct business.  
    • Key Issues and Analysis
      • There could be feasibility issues in establishing an Internal Complaints Committee at every branch or office with 10 or more employees.
      • The Internal Complaints Committee has been given the powers of a civil court.  However, it does not require members with a legal background nor are there any provisions for legal training.
      • The Bill provides for action against the complainant in case of a false or malicious complaint.  This could deter victims from filing complaints.
      • Two different bodies are called the ‘Local Complaints Committee.  The Bill does not clearly demarcate the jurisdiction, composition and functions of these Committees.
      • Cases of sexual harassment of domestic workers have been specifically excluded from the purview of the Bill.
      • Unlike sexual harassment legislation in many other countries, this Bill does not provide protection to men.

    Laws and Measures taken in India

    • Laws:
      • Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
      • Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
      • Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986
      • Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
      • Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006
    • Government Initiatives: 
      • Nirbhaya Fund for projects for the safety and security of women
        • One-Stop Centre Scheme to provide integrated support and assistance to women affected by violence, both in private and public spaces under one roof
        • the Scheme of ‘Universalisation of Women Helpline’ and 
        • the Scheme of ‘Mahila Police Volunteers’
      • Online analytic tool for police called “Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offences” to monitor and track time-bound investigation in sexual assault cases in accordance with Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2018.
      • National Database on Sexual Offenders (NDSO) to facilitate investigation and tracking of sexual offenders across the country by law enforcement agencies
      • In order to coordinate various initiatives for women safety, MHA has set up a Women Safety Division.
      • MHA has issued advisories to all State Governments/UTs, advising them to ensure a thorough investigation, conducting of medical examination of rape victims without delay and for increasing gender sensitivity in Police.
    • The Criminal Law (Amendment), Act 2013 was enacted for effective legal deterrence against sexual offences. 
      • Further, ‘The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2018’ has also been enacted making the punishment for offences like rape more stringent by including the death penalty for rape of a girl below the age of 12 years. 
      • The Act also mandates the completion of investigation and trials within 2 months each.
    • Emergency Response Support System (ERSS), which provides a single emergency number (112) based computer-aided dispatch of field resources to the location of distress has been operationalized in 20 States/ UTs in 2018-19.
    • A cyber-crime portal has been launched for citizens 
      • to report obscene content. 
      • Cyber Crime Forensic Labs have been set up in several States, and training of over 3,664 personnel, including 410 Public Prosecutors and Judicial Officers in identifying, detecting and resolving cyber-crimes against women and children has been imparted.
    • In order to improve investigation, steps have been taken to strengthen DNA analysis units in Central and State Forensic Science Laboratories. 
      • This includes the setting up of a State-of-the-Art DNA Analysis Unit in Central Forensic Science Laboratory, Chandigarh. 
      • Setting up and upgrading of DNA Analysis units in State Forensic Science Laboratories in 13 States/ UTs have also been sanctioned under Nirbhaya Fund.
    • Guidelines have been notified for the collection of forensic evidence in sexual assault. 


    • Unreported Cases
      • Crimes against Women remain mostly unreported globally.
      • Fear of societal shame is a big reason for under-reporting.
      • NFHS 4 showed that 1 in every 3 women faced some kind of violence but only 1.5% of them have reported it to Police
    • Less Sensitized Police Personnel: Police are the first person to encounter the Victim or accused. 
    • Pending Cases: Cases relating to crimes against women have the most backlog, close to 89.6%. The conviction rate is also very low.
    • Time-Bound Investigations: Laidback behaviour of the investigating authorities in a time-bound way is a major roadblock. 
    • Making Laws without proper implementation
      • Just making the laws will not work, needs to be checked for its proper implementation. 
      • Unnao case proves that making laws is not sufficient, its proper implementation is necessary
    • Gender Disparity: Discriminatory gender norms and stereotypes coupled with prevalent patriarchy leads to crimes against women.
    • Female infanticide and Sex-selective Abortions: Even in Modern India, daughters are still considered an economic burden. 
    • Awareness and education about Women right
      • This is the most difficult challenge to overtake.
      • Everyone should be aware of their rights. When giving education to young children, this should be kept in mind. 
      • The barrier of inequity needs to be broken at lower levels. 
    • Trafficking and forced prostitution
      • It is so prevalent all over the world.
      • People are trafficked to different states and even countries in the bait of jobs and later are forced to do manual work or even worse prostitution.
    • Online Abuse and harassment
      • As the internet becomes an increasingly important part of human existence to make their voices heard, a woman’s inability to feel safe online is an impediment to her freedom.
      • Women are regularly subject to online rape threats, online harassment, cyber-stalking, blackmail, trolling, slut-shaming and more. 
    • Data and statistics
      • Proper statistics and data is missing to reach the exact numbers.
      • Even the numbers already present are not enough to have a stringent policy with effective implementation.


    Way Ahead

    • Fasttrack courts need to resolve these sexual harassment cases on a priority basis.
    • Red tapism must be avoided in such sensitive cases.

    Sources: TH