Cases of sexual harassment at workplace have become rampant in our Country.
But when a lady IPS officer or a lady Judge complains of sexual abuse at the
hands of Powerful 'Senior', it is not only Shocking but gravely Concerning.
Every day we read of horrifying incidents where women are raped and harassed by
men. Women are still treated as objects
and they are subjected to a lot of
physical and mental torture at their workplaces, violating the fundamental
rights of the women provided under the Constitution of India. In-spite of strict
laws, cases of sexual exploitation of women have increased manifold, especially
It would be trite to refer to the landmark Judgment of the Apex Court in the
case of Vishaka & Ors vs State of Rajasthan & Ors
AIR 1997 SC 3011 which has
laid down the guidelines to be followed to prevent Sexual Harassment of Women at
work place. The Court widened the definition of Sexual Harassment & observed
For this purpose, sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined
behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as:
- physical contact and advances;
- a demand or request for sexual favour
- sexually coloured remarks;
- showing pornography;
- any other unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual
Where any of these acts is committed in circumstances where under the
victim of such conduct has a reasonable apprehension that in relation to the
victim's employment or work whether she is drawing salary, or honorarium or
voluntary, whether in government, public or private enterprise such conduct can
be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem. It is
discriminatory for instance when the woman has reasonable grounds to believe
that her objection would disadvantage her in connection with her employment or
work including recruiting or promotion or when it creates a hostile work
environment. Adverse consequences might be visited if the victim does not
consent to the conduct in question or raises any objection thereto.
Since the guidelines did not provide safety to women against Sexual Harassment,
the Government enacted Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention,
Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. However, the said Act has not been able to
contain or minimise Sexual Harassment of Women which is thriving unabated in our
country undaunted by the present Laws.
It would be relevant to refer to a Suo Motu Writ of the Madras High Court
decided by Justice N. Anand Ventatesh on March 1, 2021. The case deals with a
shocking incident impacting the women officers and considering the seriousness
of this incident and the monstrosity of the situation, the High Court took suo
moto cognizance in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the
Constitution of India.
The brief facts of the case are that the victim officer an IPS
a complaint to the DGP, Chennai
. The victim officer was allocated duty on
21.02.2021 in view of the visit of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. The Special
DGP directed the victim officer to accompany him in his vehicle, and she was
told that she will be dropped at Perambalur. On the directions the Special DGP,
the victim officer accompanied him in his official car. It is during this travel
towards Ulundurpet, the Special DGP indulged in sexual harassment of the lady
The victim officer hurriedly left to Ulundurpet in the available car
belonging to the SP to file a complaint with the DGP. Enroute, the official car
in which the victim officer was intercepted by a large contingent of police
headed by the SP Chengalpet District. A striking force vehicle was stationed
right in front of the car belonging to the victim officer and an Inspector and
Sub- Inspector of Police got down from the striking force vehicle and took away
the car keys with a view to pressurise to talk to the Special DGP and not to
proceed further with the complaint.
However, undaunted by the pressure tactics
the victim officer submitted a complaint to the DGP, Chennai who directed the
DGP, CB-CID, to take up necessary investigation. Thus an FIR was registered for
offences under Sections 354A(2), 341, 506(1) of the IPC and Section 4 of Tamil
Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Woman Act, 1998 against the said Special DGP
and SP Chengalpet District.
The Court lamented that it took so much of struggle to file a complaint to the
DGP, Chennai. The Court remarked thus:
The Court shudders to think as to what would have happened if the victim was an
officer belonging to a lower cadre as that of a Sub-Inspector or Constable of
Police. Probably, it would have become impossible for such an officer to have
even given a complaint in this case. If that is the position in which lady
officers are placed, it is hard to think as to what will happen if such a sexual
harassment had taken place on an ordinary lady with no background.
The Court expressed concern about state of affairs in workplaces and the
futility of filing FIR thus:
The mere registration of an FIR by itself does not take away the sordid state of
affairs that is prevailing insofar as sexual harassment in workplaces are
The Court was distressed at the plight of women and remarked thus:
There is a faulty gene in men which sometimes make them think that a woman is
subordinate to them and that at times she can even be treated like a chattel.
History, time and again shows that it is after a very long struggle, and only in
the last 25 years that women have somehow managed to get to top levels at
workplaces including public service. That by itself, does not place them at a
secure position since they are not seen in their stature as an officer or
professional but continue to be seen merely with patriarchal eyes.
The Court commented that if IPS Cadre lady officers are going to face situations
such as this, it is high time to take cognizance of the same to ensure that
these instances do not happen in the future. The Court lauded the courage of
the women of the present times and remarked thus:
It is only in the recent past that women have started coming out even
complaining against sexual harassment. There was a time where they used to
swallow the bitter pill without raising a
complaint about the same, since they feared consequences both in the workplace
as well as the society.
The Court ordered stringent measures in case of powerful offenders and observed:
If an officer, due to the power he veils, thinks that he can get over with his
power and connections, from any act, this Court is not going to be a mute
spectator and this Court will step in and ensure that the rule of law is
preserved. Persons by virtue of the position they hold should not get the
impression that they can do anything and finally escape from the situation with
their power. The more the power that is vested in a person by virtue of the
position that he is holding, the more stringent must be the punishment if he
indulges in sexual harassment. Whosoever may be the person involved and whatever
position he holds should never come in the way of the law taking its own course,
more particularly when it comes to cases of sexual harassment.
The Court stressed that a fair and proper investigation into crimes is one of
the essentials of the criminal justice system and an integral facet of rule of
law. The Court referred to the Apex Court's case of Pooja Pal v. Union of India
(2016) 3 SCC 135 wherein the Court emphasized on the requirement of a free and
fair investigation as an essential concomitant of Article 21 of the
Constitution. The Court ordered for monitoring the investigation itself and
The axiomatic principle that ‘justice must not only be done but seen to be
done’ is not alien to the field of criminal investigation. This is therefore, an
extraordinary case where this Court is required to step into monitor the
investigation to ensure that it progresses on the right lines, and to retain
public confidence in the investigation of the alleged crime by ringfencing the
interference of the high and mighty in the corridors of power.
The Court finally ordered thus:
In view of the aforesaid, this Court is required to step into monitor the
investigation thereby, ensuring that the fundamental rights of the victim to a
free and fair investigation is not reduced to an empty ritual. The role of the
Constitutional Court in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the
Constitution to zealously guard the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article
21 of the Constitution is reinforced by a constitutional duty to act as a
sentinel on the qui vive.
This is therefore, one of those extraordinary cases where sentinel must raise to
the occasion to discharge its constitutional duty and to ensure that the pure
streams of criminal justice are not polluted and corrupted by those in the
corridors of power.
The Apex Court recently on 26th February 2021 allowed former District Judge from
Madhya Pradesh to withdraw the petition filed by him challenging the
disciplinary proceedings initiated by the MP High Court over the sexual
harassment allegations made by a junior judicial officer. The Court observed
We cannot allow sexual harassment cases to be swept under the carpet like
You are walking on a very thin ice you can fall any time.
The brief facts of the case are that the petitioner District Judge sent
offensive & improper WhatsApp messages to the complainant lady officer. The
Bench had remarked that it is not an acceptable conduct for a judge to flirt
with a junior officer.
The Court did not accede to the argument of the petitioner's counsel that the
lady officer has withdrawn her complaint under the Prevention of Sexual
Harassment Act, and therefore the disciplinary proceedings by the High Court are
not maintainable. The bench observed that the woman might have withdrawn the
complaint because of some embarrassment and that will not preclude the High
Court from initiating separate departmental proceedings on its own.
The Courts are now taking very strict action against the powerful offenders
involved in Sexual Harassment of women and therefore it is imperative that those
in power should not exploit their women subordinates but treat them honourably
else they shall face the ire of the Courts.
Written By: Inder Chand Jain
Ph no: 8279945021, Email: [email protected]