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23 Mar 2017

Sexual Harassment in India: Law, liability and things to know

Sexual Harassment in India: From meaning to redressal

Recent times have seen a surge in high profile cases on sexual harassment. Accusations have hit employees of major corporates like Uber, PSU's like Air India, and recently in the start-up world, like The Viral Fever.

However, these allegations have been largely denied or brushed off with callousness.

What does Indian law say about sexual harassment and employer's responsibility? Let us find out!

In context

Sexual Harassment in India: From meaning to redressal

21 Apr 2017

Author Rashmi Bansal says Murthy touched her, made inappropriate advances

Rashmi Bansal, author of 'Stay hungry, Stay foolish' has come forward accusing Mahesh Murthy of having inappropriate propositioning and physically touching her.

She said that in 2004 she had met him to exchange ideas where he had told her that he was in an 'open marriage'.

Post that, she said he touched her thighs inappropriately making her feel "cheap and violated and disgusted."

Sexual Harassment: A serious issue?

Sexual harassment is a serious concern in India. A new survey by the Indian National Bar Association found that 38% of the respondents faced harassment at work place. 69% out of these did not complain about it.

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Major cases in sexual harassment in India

R.K. Pachauri, director of TERI was charged with sexual harassment in 2016 following a year-old allegation from an employee.

Allegations of sexual harassment made by a Doordarshan employee against her supervisor in 2015 were found to be true. No action was taken.

A committee constituted by the Supreme Court found retired judge AK Ganguly guilty of "unwelcome behaviour" against an intern, in 2014.

2017: A year of accusations

Sexual harassment allegations have rocked the Indian start-up world in 2017. Among those accused include, Arunabh Kumar, CEO of entertainment start-up,The Viral Fever. Mahesh Murthy, a well-known Venture capitalist was accused of misbehaving with Frshday founder Wamika Iyer and Pooja Chauhan, co-founder of Vayuz.com.

What does the law say?


What does the law say?

The Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention and Redressal) Act, 2013, includes "physical contact, demand/request for sexual favours" among other things as sexual harassment.

"Threat/promise of preferential or detrimental treatment and humiliating treatment affecting health or safety" of the employee is also included.

IPC Sections including Section 509 (insulting the modesty of a woman) and 209 (Obscene acts in public spaces) are also cited.

Vishakha Guidelines

Noting the absence of sexual harassment legislation in India, the Supreme Court, ruling on Vishakha v State of Rajasthan in 1997 laid out guidelines to prevent sexual harassment at workplace. The guidelines have served as the basis for enactment of the law in 2013.


Employer's liability

The employer is bound to set up an "Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) within his/her organization to look into complaints of sexual harassment and suggest means of redressal. Failure to constitute ICC can invite a penalty upto Rs. 50,000.

The employer is also liable to ensure a safe working-environment, take actions against misconduct and conduct periodic awareness drives to sensitize the employees on the issue.

What needs to be done?

Way forward

What needs to be done?

Women have been seen hesitant to seek recourse under the law fearing stigma and loss of jobs. Organizations should take allegations seriously and facilitate easy redressal. Recent move to grant paid leave to women, pending inquiry is a welcome move.

Organizations should toughen their stance against those found guilty.

Means to redress sexual harassment against men need to be instituted.

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