Workplace Harassment- Trap the nasty devilry!!

Unshackle the laws! ‘Too little - too late’ has been done. Miles yet to cover and ages to go past, to realise the rhetorics of ‘gender equality and women’s empowerment’ in the truest sense, in India! In the progressive world, women step out of their homes to work, make careers, support their families, with a desire and aspiration to live a life of dignity; of course, they are equally entitled to it as anyone else is. Ironically, we say it verbally more than we genuinely mean it.

Amidst the hostile environments of workplaces, there languish voices of countless aggrieved victims, undoubtedly, for justice. It may take aeons of enormous toil and efforts of the legal system across the country to annihilate the abominable offences of women’s sexual exploitation and harassment at workplaces.

The common innuendoes of the offences are detestable gestures, behaviours and acts that are aimed at outraging women’s modesty at workplaces. Anomalies and glitches rule the roost, in the context. It’s one of the most rampant offences depraving the fabric of the society at large. Needless to say, it’s the resultant effect of a parochial mindset, incompetent systemic functioning, missing aggressive will and lack of appropriate legislation & clutching enforcement.

It’s been seen, till now, several unsolicited guiles, frivolous sexual advances and approaches to do so have been the bane and pain in women’s work-life which impede their career path, and also destroy their aspiration to lead a dignified life. In my view, there have been such abhorrent paradoxes; on the one hand we eloquently talk about gender equality of women’s rights in this so-called civilized society; contrarily, on the other hand there are still roving intents, eyes and hands that get persistently odious, in humiliating women’s dignity and respect in some way or the other. Is it the insularity of society that encourage such acts and despicable behaviours of people at workplaces, or is it the inadequacy of laws and effective enforcement?

It’s not very difficult to identify them. Any undesirable or unsolicited remarks that are verbal or non-verbal and of sexual demeanour, or attempt to make sexual contacts or communication, force a demand for sexual favours, illustrate or show pornography, or any annoying remarks done in the garb of decency, with intent of sexuality, are nothing but innuendoes and manners of sexual harassment at workplaces. But every voice for help and protection has been recklessly muzzled, and given deaf ears & blind eyes; eventually, their ordeals are lost in oblivion.

Fortunately, after an extensive battle, there have been prolific enactments in the Indian Penal Code for Domestic Violence and Prohibition of Dowry, and they have effectively worked in acting as deterrent to the offenders in recent times. Not omitting the fact, they are seriously and equally punitive in nature. But do laws for thwarting workplace sexual harassment are as stringent, punitive and can cause trepidation to the offender with the very thought and idea to commit them? It’s for us answer the big question, which also poses a mammoth challenge before us.

The reason being - there are negligibly two sections in the IPC to protect female employees, and under which the offenders can be tried - Section 354 and 509 - for assault or criminal force to women with intent to outrage her modesty, and any word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of women, respectively. Empirically, it’s been established, in myriad cases, there are numerous lacunae in the construed legislations and taking cognizance viz. reporting it to the officials and superiors concerned becomes an arduous task due to which the victim is flinched and lacks the confidence in bringing it to their notice. Also, in many organizations, they work in night shifts, which make the problem even more severe; thus, it either goes unreported, or ignored by the officials, in the process they even fail to take cognizance of the offence.

Significantly, to remind everyone, the fundamental rights of gender equality and right of life and liberty Article 21 along with Article 14, 15 and Article 19(1) (g) to practice any profession or to carry out any occupation, trade or business, have been clearly construed and delineated in our constitution. But these offences being repeatedly committed are a mockery to all such construction and outline of laws.

Undeniably, our thoughts get trapped between the horns of contradictory and diffident views. Only a heralding conquest can be a colossal reprieve in the form of more efficient legislation. In the name of judgment, we have just one case that keeps strongly reverberating, and on which we wholly rely – the guidelines given by Hon’ble Supreme Court in Vishaka V/s State of Rajasthan (1997) case.

Officially accepted by the Union Cabinet in 2010, the “Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment”, act was passed by the Lok Sabha on 3 September 2012. It was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 26 February 2013 and the finally act came into force from 9 December 2013. The act will contribute to realization of women’s right to gender equality, liberty and also equality in the working conditions everywhere. It will increase the sense of security at the workplace and improve their participation in work, resulting in their economic empowerment and inclusive growth.