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A Commentary On Sexual Harassment At Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, And Redressal) Act, 2013

As enshrined within the Preamble to the Constitution of India, "equality of status and opportunity" must be secured for all its citizens; equality of each person under the law is guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution.

A safe workplace is therefore a woman's right. Certainly, the Constitutional doctrine of equality and personal liberty is incorporated in Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. These articles guarantee an individual's right to equal protection under the law, to live a life free from discrimination on any ground and to the protection of life and personal liberty.

This can be further reinforced by the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 and which is ratified by India. Often described as an international bill of rights for women, it incorporates the equality of ladies and gents in terms of human rights and fundamental freedoms within the political, economic, social, cultural and civil spheres. It emphasizes that bias and assaults on women's dignity infringe the principle of equality of rights.

One of the explanations for Sexual Harassment could also be the rationale that women are considered to be the inferior sex. But as far as mental intelligence is worried, women have proved and established that they are no but men. Sexual Harassment is additionally a cause; its occurrence helps to keep up gender stratification by emphasizing sex role expectations (asserting the women's sex role over her work role).

Sexual Harassment could be a reminder to women of their status as sex objects; even at work. Feminists place Sexual Harassment parallel to rape or analogous to rape they call Sexual Harassment as executive's alternative to rape.

Though sexual harassment at the workplace has assumed serious proportions, women don't report the concern to the concerned authorities in most cases because of fear of reprisal from the harasser, losing one's livelihood, being stigmatized, or losing professional standing and private reputation.

By analysis of the daily reports within the mass media, it becomes quite clear that from being a 'mere' social issue, Sexual Harassment at the workplace has metamorphosed into a social malaise. Its multiple devastating effects become visible on the entire weave of the social fabric in bold impressions, both as a cause and a sway. It not only violates their sense of dignity and right to earn a living in a healthy work environment but is also against their fundamental rights similarly to basic human rights.

The Mandate
Today, all workplaces in India are ordered by law to furnish a comfortable and protected working atmosphere exempt from sexual harassment for all women.

The Genesis
In 1992, a rural level change agent, Bhanwari Devi, was engaged by the state of Rajasthan as a Sathin to work towards the prevention of the practice of child marriages. During the course of her work, she prevented the wedding of a one-year-old girl within the community. Her task was met with hostility and persuaded harassment from men of that population. Bhanwari Devi reported this to the government agency but no action was taken. That negligence came at great cost - Bhanwari was thereafter gang raped by those very men.

The Bhanwari Devi case revealed the ever-present sexual harm to which a lot of working women are exposed across the country, everywhere and every day regardless of their location. It also shows the extent to which that harm can escalate if nothing is done to test sexually offensive behaviour within the workplace.

Established on the validities of Bhanwari Devi's case, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by Vishaka and other women communities against the State of Rajasthan and the Union of India before the Supreme Court of India. It proposed that sexual harassment be recognized as a violation of women`s fundamental right to equality and that all workplaces/establishments/institutions be made accountable and responsible to uphold these rights.

In a milestone judgment, Vishaka vs. State of Rajasthan (1997), the Supreme Court of India established legally mandatory guidelines basing it on the right to equality and dignity accorded under the Indian Constitution moreover as by the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

It included:
  • A justification for sexual harassment
  • Shifting responsibility from individuals to institutions
  • Prioritizing prevention
  • Provision of an ingenious redress mechanism

The Supreme Court defined sexual harassment as any unwelcome, sexually determined physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct. Examples included sexually suggestive remarks about women, demands for sexual favours, and sexually offensive visuals within the workplace. The definition also covered situations where a lady can be disadvantaged in her workplace as a result of threats regarding employment decisions that would negatively affect her working life.

It placed responsibility on employers to make sure that women did not face a hostile environment, and prohibited intimidation or victimization of those cooperating with an inquiry, including the affected complainant as well as witnesses.

It directed for the constitution of a redressal mechanism in the form of the Complaints Committee, which will glance into the issues of sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The Complaints Committees were mandated to be headed by a woman employee, with not less than half of its members being women and provided for the involvement of a third-party person/NGO expert on the issue, to forestall any undue pressure on the complainant. The guidelines extended to any or all kinds of employment, from paid to voluntary, across the general public and private sectors.

Vishaka ascertained that global standards/law could serve to broaden the extent of India's Constitutional assurances and fill in the gaps wherever they exist. India's innovative history in tackling workplace sexual harassment beginning with the Vishaka Guidelines and subsequent legislation has given critical visibility to the problem. Workplaces must now own their responsibility within this context and make sure that women can work in safe and secure spaces.

Workplace Sexual Harassment: What Is It?
This domain interprets the aggrieved woman, workplace and sexual harassment as well as emphasizes key components of workplace sexual harassment.

Who is an Aggrieved Woman?
Any woman irrespective of age, whether employed or not who alleges to have been subjected to any act of Sexual Harassment i.e., unwelcome acts or behaviour (directly or by implication) including physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours, or making sexually coloured remarks or showing pornography or any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature, molestation or even to try to molest a women etc., by any man, either at workplace or dwelling place or house or at anywhere else would be called as 'aggrieved woman'.

The term 'aggrieved woman' has been defined in section 2 of the Act stating that:
  1. In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires:
    1. aggrieved woman means:
      1. In relation to a workplace, a woman of any age whether employed or not, who was allegedly subjected to any act of Sexual Harassment by the respondent;
      2. In relation to a dwelling place or house, a woman of any age who is employed in such a dwelling place or house.

What is a Workplace?
A workplace is defined as "any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment, including transportation provided by the employer for undertaking such a journey." As per this definition, a workplace covers both the organized and unorganised sectors.

What is Sexual Harassment at the Workplace?
Sexual Harassment encompasses anyone or more of the following unpleasant acts or behaviour (whether directly or by implication), namely:
  1. Physical touch or advances;
  2. A desire or request for sexual favours;
  3. Generating sexually coloured comments;
  4. Displaying pornography;
  5. Any additional unpleasant physical, vocal or non-verbal behaviour of a sexual nature.

Key elements of Workplace Sexual Harassment
Relatively frequently circumstances that commence off innocently come out in inadequate and amateurish behaviours. It is significant to recognize that workplace sexual harassment is sexual, and unpleasant and the occasion is subjective. It is the consequence and not the objective that matters and it nearly always occurs in a matrix of strength.

It is apparent that a woman may encounter a sole instance of sexual harassment or a sequel of occurrences over a duration of time. It is crucial also to know that each case is different and should be assessed in its own context and according to the encircling situations as an aggregate.

Examples of behaviours and scenarios that constitute Sexual Harassment:
Below are examples of behaviour that may or may not constitute workplace sexual harassment in isolation. At the same time, it is important to remember that more often than not, such behaviour occurs in clusters. Distinguishing between these different possibilities is not an easy task and requires essential training and skill building.

Some examples of behaviour that constitute sexual harassment at the workplace:
  1. Making sexually symbolic comments or insinuations
  2. Serious or repeated offensive remarks, like teasing associated with a person's body or appearance.
  3. Objectionable statements or hoaxes.
  4. Inappropriate questions, suggestions or remarks about a couple of person's sex life.
  5. Showing sexist or other objectionable resemblances, advertisements, MMS, SMS, WhatsApp, or e-mails.
  6. Coercion, perils, extort around sexual favours.
  7. Threats, intimidation or reprisal against a worker who speaks up about unpleasant behaviour with sexual overtones.
  8. Unpleasant social proposals, with sexual overtones are normally comprehended as flirting.
  9. Unwelcome sexual advances which can or might not be in the middle of promises or threats, explicit or implicit.
  10. Physical contact like touching or pinching.
  11. Hugging, kissing or touching someone against her will (could be deemed assault).
  12. Invasion of private space (getting too close for no reason, brushing against or cornering someone).
  13. Persistently inviting somebody out, despite being declined.
  14. Stalking a person.
  15. Misuse of authority or strength to jeopardize a person's job or thwart accomplishment against sexual favours.
  16. Falsely accusing and undermining someone behind closed doors for sexual favours.
  17. Regulating a person's status by rumour-mongering about her personal life.

Some examples of behaviour that may indicate underlying workplace sexual harassment and merit inquiry:
  1. Criticizing, insulting, blaming, reprimanding or condemning an employee publicly.
  2. Exclusion from group activities or assignments without a legitimate reason.
  3. Proclamations hurting an individual's status or career.
  4. Discarding areas of accountability, unjustifiably.
  5. Inappropriately giving an insufficient or excessive amount of work.
  6. Continual overruling authority without just reason.
  7. Unjustifiably monitoring everything that's done.
  8. Blaming a private constantly for errors without just cause.
  9. Repeatedly singling out an employee by assigning her demeaning and belittling jobs that don't seem to be a part of her regular duties.
  10. Insults or humiliations, repeated attempts to exclude or isolate someone.
  11. Systematically interfering with normal work conditions, sabotaging places or instruments of labour.
  12. Humiliating an individual ahead of colleagues, engaging in smear campaigns.
  13. Arbitrarily taking correctional action against a worker.
  14. Controlling the person by withholding resources (time, budget, autonomy, and training) necessary to succeed.

Some Samples Of Workplace Behaviours Which Will Not Constitute Sexual Harassment:
  1. Following up on job absences.
  2. Requiring performance to job standards.
  3. The conventional exercise of management rights.
  4. Work-related stress e.g., meeting deadlines or quality standards.
  5. Conditions of work.
  6. Constructive feedback about the work mistake and not the person.

Forms of Workplace Sexual Harassment
Generally, workplace sexual harassment refers to two common styles of inappropriate behaviour:
  • Quid Pro Quo (literally 'this for that')
    • Implied or explicit promise of preferential/detrimental treatment in employment
    • Implied or express threats about her present or future employment status
  • Hostile Work Environment
    • Creating a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment
    • Humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety

Prevention and Prohibition
This section interprets those who are both credible and liable to prevent workplace sexual harassment in subordination with the Act. It also accentuates the role of workplaces in deterring workplace sexual harassment through an effectively disseminated policy.

Who is an Employer?
An employer refers to:
  1. The head of the headquarters, organization, undertaking, association, business, institution, office, branch or unit of the Appropriate Government or local authority or such officer specified on this behalf.
  2. Any person (whether contractual or not) responsible for the management, supervision and control of a designated workplace not covered under clause (i).
  3. A person or a household who employs or benefits from the employment of domestic workers or women employees.

Who is an Appropriate Government?
As per the Act, Appropriate Government means:
  1. In relation to a workplace which is established, owned, controlled or wholly or substantially financed by funds provided directly or indirectly:
    1. By the Central Government or the Union Territory administration, the Central Government;
    2. By the State Government, the State Government;
  2. In relation to any workplace not covered under sub-clause (i) and falling within its territory, the State Government.

Who is a District Officer (DO)?
State Governments will inform a District Magistrate/Additional District Magistrate/ Collector/ Deputy Collector as a District Officer at the regional level. The District Officer will be accountable for achieving the powers and tasks under the Act at the district levels (encompassing every block, taluka, tehsil, ward, and municipality).

Responsibilities of the aforementioned authorities
Under the statute, the employer/DO is compelled to establish a workplace free of sexual harassment.

It is the obligation of the Employer/District Officer in common too:
  1. Establish and disseminate a comprehensive policy;
  2. Assure awareness and direction on the issue;
  3. Compose Complaints Committee/s in every workplace and district so that every working woman is furnished with a means for redress of her complaint (s);
  4. Guarantee Complaints Committees are equipped in both skill and capacity;
  5. Prepare an annual report and report to the respective state government;


This domain is about Redress. It furnishes beneficial data on who can complain, to whom, and what a complaint should comprise. It also provides information and lays out the steps involved when a grievance has reached the Complaints Committee, in terms of the techniques, findings and recommendations.

Normally, where there are but ten workers, any woman employee can complain to the Local Complaints Committee with the assistance of the Nodal Officer, when required. It's the duty of the District Officer to appoint someone as the Nodal Officer in every block, Taluka and Tehsil in rural or tribal areas and wards or municipalities within the urban areas, to obtain the complaints of workplace molestation from women.

The Nodal Officer will forth all such grievances within seven days of their receipt to the concerned Complaints Committee for reasonable action. In most other workplaces, a lady employee can make an objection to the Internal Complaints Committee.

What should the complaint contain?
The jotted down complaint should comprise an overview of every incident(s). It should include applicable dates, timings and locations; the name of the respondent(s); and also, the working relationship between the parties. Someone appointed to govern the workplace sexual harassment complaint is expected to generate assistance in the writing of the grievance if the plaintiff seeks it for any reason.

What can an Employee/Worker expect?
When it pertains to redress for workplace sexual harassment, employee/worker comprises a right to anticipate -a trained, skilled and competent Complaints Committee, a time-bound process, information intimacy, confirmation of non-retaliation, guiding or other facilitating aid where required and assistance if the complainant opts for criminal proceedings.

Rights of the Complainant
  • A compassionate behaviour from the Complaints Committee in order that she will state her resentment in a fearless environment
  • A copy of the statement together with all the proof and an inventory of witnesses submitted by the respondent
  • Keeping her identity confidential throughout the method
  • Support, in lodging FIR just in case she chooses to lodge criminal proceedings
  • In case of fear of intimidation from the respondent, her statement is recorded in absence of the respondent
  • Right to appeal, in case, not satisfied with the recommendations/findings of the Complaints Committee

Rights of the Respondent
  • A patient hearing to present his case in a very non-biased manner
  • A copy of the statement together with all the evidence and a listing of witnesses submitted by the complainant
  • Keeping his identity confidential throughout the process
  • Right to appeal just in case not satisfied with the recommendations/findings of the Complaints Committee


Sexual Harassment could be a topic of interest and a region of concern in this era. The harassment leads to violation of the basic fundamental rights of women, especially the right to equality under articles 14 & 15 of the Indian constitution and her right to life and to live with dignity under article 21 of the constitution.

The current study provides an intensive background on the molestation of ladies in India. The origin of the harassment has been taken from the Bhanwari Devi case and an account of Vishaka and Ors. v/s Union of India 1997 judgment is additionally mentioned within the current study. The present research paper tries to spotlight the causes that tend to spontaneous increase in harassment cases from different time perspectives.

One among the prominent causes which are highlighted within the present research paper include the male-dominated organizational setup i.e. much of the harassment which women face at the workplace isn't "sexual" in content or design but the motive behind this is often to point out the domination of male folk, inferior job position where women usually wield less hierarchical power in an organizations and men have more harassment is one method of the powerful asserting control over the powerless, misperceptions about the friendly nature of a women in a company by men colleagues and who began to harass those women who are quite friendly in nature and ladies with higher academic profile and lesser job opportunity after they began their journey to search out employment in a corporation may it's an academic institute or other private or government sector they're harassed and advanced by sexual favors by the person in charges and for that they're assured to be offered employment and consequently of these causes ends up in sexual harassment of women.

  • Chaudhary Reena, Sexual Harassment: Threat to Working Women (2011 edition)
  • Kumar Gaurav, Sexual Harassment at Workplace (2014 edition)
  • Gupta Ritu, Sexual Harassment at Workplace (2014 edition)

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