Policy in Action – Sexual Harassment
By Anura Pareek
To address the rampant issue of sexual harassment of women and the legal recourse and support available, the webinar took place on 28th April, 2020. The one hour long session, led by Advocate Manasi Chaudhari, was followed by an interactive round of questions and answers. Watch full session here.
Advocate Chaudhari opened the session with categorising sexual harassment under three different headings, namely physical, verbal and non verbal. Physical sexual harassment encompasses violent, aggressive action and all kinds of unwanted physical touch. Under the term of verbal sexual harassment, actions like eve teasing and statements made in conversations which make women feel uncomfortable or violated were listed. The last category, of Non-verbal sexual harassment included gestures, noises, body language and facial expressions with a sexual connotation. Whether an action is sexual harassment or not depends on the context of the circumstances.
It’s Not Your Fault
Early on in the session itself, Advocate Chaudhari established that in instances of sexual harassment, it is not the survivor’s fault, whatsoever and that sexual harassment is more common than we think it to be, a sentiment that echoed throughout the session. She also asserted that the perpetrator doesn’t have a certain face or profile, anyone can be a harasser, including family and friends and that sexual harassment can take place anywhere. To address sexual harassment at work place, the POSH Act was passed. In situations where the survivor feels that they are being harassed but aren’t sure because the act is very subtle, they should go with their gut instinct.
The session progressed to discussion on types of sexual harassment criminalised by law. Advocate Chaudhari pointed out that after the heinous and spine chilling Nirbhaya Case, laws concerning sexual harassment had become stricter and cognisant of a spectrum of actions as harassment. The Criminal Law Amendment Act was passed in 2013 and Section 354A was added to the Indian Penal Code (IPC). It recognises the following acts as sexual harassment: unwanted physical contact, sexually coloured comments, sexual gestures, asking for sexual favours and showing pornography against a women’s will. Post the Nirbhaaya Case, each and every part of the act of raping a woman was now punishable by crime, including disrobing a woman in public under Section 354B of the IPC. Advocate Chaudhari asserted that the Indian laws are in strong favour of women, in contrast to the general opinion.
Provisions in the Law against Sexual Harassment
A distinction between cognisable and non-cognisable acts was made. Cognisable offences are those for which complaint can be registered with the police and non-cognisable offences are those for which complaint can be registered with the magistrate. All cases of sexual harassment come under cognisable offences. Further, the following provisions in the IPC against different forms of sexual harassment were elaborated upon:
- Eve Teasing, Section 509 + 294 IPC: Intruding upon a woman’s privacy, uttering any offensive word, sound or gesture.
- Molestation, Section 354 IPC: Touching a woman inappropriately
- Voyeurism, Section 354C, IPC: Watching a woman engage in private act, capturing her image, distributing her images without consent
- Stalking, Section 345D, IPC: Following or contacting a woman despite indication of disinterest, monitoring her online activity, watching or spying on her. If a stalker enters a woman’s private property, it is considered as criminal trespassing.
Lodging a Police Complaint
The discussion then moved on to the process of filing a police complaint. A comprehensive and concise guide is given below:
- Lodge a police complaint with the police station with jurisdiction over the area the crime has been committed.
- For serious crimes (example, rape) and other urgent situations, the survivor can file a zero complaint. A zero complaint can be filed with any police station in the country, which would then be forwarded to the concerned police station.
- A number of cities have an option of filing online complaints and cities like Hyderabad female police teams dedicated to handling complaints of sexual harassment.
- For all sexual harassment cases, the complaint has to be taken by a female police officer only.
- A delay in lodging a complaint does not matter.
Following this, the session moved into a question answer round where Advocate Chaudhari attended to the concerns of the attendees. With this, the session ended to rave reviews by the participants.
In the wake of the “Bois Locker Room” incidence and a wave of a social media movement akin to #MeToo by school student of India, calling out the unsafe and toxic culture of Indian school, awareness of sexual harassment redressing measures becomes immensely pertinent.