Buckle up: Quick guide to sexual harassment law and tips to handle it

Over the few weeks, girls are showing courage and coming out in protest for what happened with them. Still there are many out there who do not confess to the crime either out of fear or lack of knowledge about the law.

In the sensational Tehelka journalist sexual harassment case, the Goa Police has filed a case of rape and outraging of modesty against accused Tarun Tejpal. The charges relate to section 376 (rape) and section 354 RPT 354 (outraging modesty) of IPC.

Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar gave complete authority to the police investigate the sexual assault case against Tejpal. A police team landed in Delhi late in the evening. The Goa police has even sent a written request to Delhi police for help in the case.

The team is supposed to have served warrant at Tejpal’s Delhi house where the editor-in-chief was not present.

Parrikar had on Thursday ordered a preliminary inquiry into the allegations by the girl that she was sexually abused by Tejpal during an event in Goa. The alleged incident happened in a lift in a five star hotel in Goa about 10 days ago.

DIG O P Mishra had said the CCTV footage was received from the hotel last evening and was preserved. The details of the incident can only be known after examining the footage, he said.

Police have already written to the Tehelka management, asking for the documents including email of the victim and the statement by Tejpal.

Given the frequency of news about sexual harassment at workplace grabbing headlines, one really wonders if Indian males are just equal to perverts who jump at every possibility of seeing a girl.

Over the few weeks, girls are showing courage and coming out in protest for what happened with them. Still there are many out there who do not confess to the crime either out of fear or lack of knowledge about the law.

So here are few tips which will help you when you are in such a situation (we hope you are never) or you may help a friend of yours knowing these tips. We are also giving full details about the Vishaka guidelines after them.

So buckle up, and face the offenders.

Things to do in case you/your friend is sexually harassed:

  1. Do not ignore: Do not ignore if you have been a victim of harassment. Speak up. Because it won’t stop if you keep mum and the harasser may harass someone else too.
  2. Say NO: Say a clear NO. Tell the harasser to stop whatever the condition or threat he poses. Stay strong because a stronger hand shuts them up.
  3. Keep record: Keep a clear record on what happened. E-mails, messages, letters, photos, videos – whatever record you have against the harasser, keep it safely with you and not on employer’s equipment.
  4. Report the harassment: Reporting sexual harassment may feel threatening and disruptive, but your report does two important things. It gives your employer an opportunity to correct the problem, i.e. make the harassment stop; and if the conduct does not abate, you have proof that your employer knows about the problem. Consult your employee manuals and policies and also make clear in front of the employer that the harassment is sexual in nature.
  5. Tell HR but be cautious: Whatever you tell to HR travels through the company. So be cautious while telling them. You may directly go to a senior.
  6. Don’t quit: Do not quit either your job or persuading of the matter.
  7. Do your job well: Whatever the situation, keep doing your job well. Remember, anything which may go against you can be used by your employer to force you out.
  8. Take legal advice: See a lawyer either directly or through an NGO. If you are not met with right response by the employer consult your lawyer for further action which may include filing an FIR, suing the company and the person.

Vishakha judgment on sexual harassment at workplace:

What is the Vishakha judgment?

The Vishakha judgment by the Supreme Court laid down the guidelines for employers for dealing with complaints of sexual harassment/assault at the workplace, and stipulated formation of committees to dispose of complaints from victims.

What are the salient points of the judgment?

The court said sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour as physical contact, demand or request for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography or any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

The judgment recognised sexual harassment as a violation of fundamental rights of women to equality, non-discrimination, the practice of occupation, trade, business or profession of one’s choice, and to life and liberty. The court noted that the fundamental right to carry on any occupation, trade or profession depends on the availability of a “safe” working environment.

It stipulated that all organisations would form a complaints committee to look into any such allegation. It would be headed by a woman employee and not less than half of its members would be women. All complaints of sexual harassment by any woman employee would be directed to this committee.

The committee would advise the victim on further course of action and recommend to the management the course of action against the person accused of harassment.

When did the judgment come?

The Supreme Court laid down the Vishakha guildelines in 1997 following the rape of a social worker in Rajasthan.

After an extremely humiliating legal battle in the Rajasthan High Court, the rape survivor did not get justice. This enraged a women’s rights group called Vishakha that filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court.

What was the recourse available to women before Vishakha judgment?

Before 1997, women experiencing sexual harassment at workplace had to lodge a complaint under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with the ‘criminal assault of women to outrage women’s modesty’, and Section 509 that punishes an individual or individuals for using a ‘word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman’.

These sections left the interpretation of ‘outraging women’s modesty’ to the discretion of the police officer.

-with inputs from IANS

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