Recent Sexual Harassment Reports In Rashtrapati Bhavan Show No Place Is Safe For Women

Reports of harassment against women employees at Rashtrapati Bhavan have surfaced recently. Makes us wonder if harassment laws can actually protect women in India.

Over the years, women have been steadily climbing the ladder of success at their work places. Today, Corporate India can boast of women leaders across industries.

Sexual harassment can happen even at high-profile workplaces!

However, this journey has not been easy, and the road ahead also seems to be filled with obstacles. As per a recent news report, an RTI query was filed requesting details of sexual harassment at work place.The shocking response revealed that two harassment cases were filed in the hallowed halls of Rashtrapati Bhavan itself. This disturbing information suggests that women who are working at such close quarters with the law making machinery are themselves not immune to the danger of harassment.




Is there any law against harassment at workplace?

In 2013, Tarun Tejpal was accused of sexual harassment by a younger colleague, which caused a huge uproar. The media spotlight in the case ensured that companies with more than 10 women employees followed the protocol and set up a harassment committee as drawn out by the ‘Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013’.

AS PER THE LAW,

The harassment committee of a company must have:

  • A presiding officer who will a woman employee at a senior managerial level. In case no women employee is present at such a level, then the officer can be nominated from another unit of the company.
  • Atleast two members of the committee should have experience of social work or have legal knowledge.
  • One member should be from a NGO or associations committed to women issues. The person should also be aware of sexual harassment issues and have some prior experience of handling it.

This committee is supposed to run independently and not be governed by company hierarchy. Though this law has been implemented on paper, the reality is different in many places.

The very definition of ‘harassment’ is hazy!

First and foremost the very definition of harassment is hazy. It includes:

  • Asking a women colleague for sexual favours in return for an incentive.
  • Sending a female co-worker double meaning or suggestive texts.
  • Intimidating a junior women colleague.

But there are various other forms of harassment at work which are not even addressed at times, such as:

  1. Commenting on a female colleague’s looks or figure without her knowledge.
  2. Commenting on her dress in a demeaning fashion.
  3. Humiliating her in front of her juniors to undermine her authority.

There are cases where a female colleague’s achievements and promotions are sneered at and her hard work questioned. The fact that she is successful because of her own merit cannot be digested by some male members and hence her morality is questioned.

Why women think twice before reporting harassment complaints

There is less reporting of such cases, as many women fear the backlash that may occur if they complained. Despite the fact that the committee is supposed to work as an autonomous body, they are at times influences by the senior members of the company. Many a times perpetrators are let off whereas the employee who had the courage to report ends up losing her job for making a false complaint. There is also a lot of stigma attached to reporting a harassment case. Women are worried about being labelled as a ‘trouble maker’ which may affect their growth potential.

Awareness about the harassment laws is crucial!

There is a need to ensure that the work places change their culture. They should cultivate an environment which fosters growth of all employees, despite their genders. Awareness needs to be generated about the harassment laws. The committee should be allowed to make judgements based on facts and evidences. A strong message needs to go out to anyone who is found guilty of the charges.

The workplace is a common ground where men and women need to mutually respect each other and work in alignment to achieve the company objectives.

Image via movie ‘That’s Harassment’

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