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16 November, 2013

Supreme Court fails to follow the law it laid down

Sixteen years ago the Supreme Court of India, observing that it is necessary and expedient for employers in work places as well as other responsible persons or institutions to observe certain guidelines to ensure the prevention of sexual harassment of women, laid down certain norms and procedures in a landmark judgment.

The court said, “It shall be the duty of the employer or other responsible persons in work places or other institutions to prevent or deter the commission of acts of sexual harassment and to provide the procedures for the resolution, settlement or prosecution of acts, of sexual harassment by taking all steps required.”

It mentioned five acts – physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature – and added that where any of them is committed in circumstances whereunder the victim has a reasonable apprehension that in relation to her 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 proposed the creation of an appropriate complaint mechanism in the organization for redress of the complaint made by the victim on a time-bound basis.   

Specifically, it suggested the formation of a Complaints Committee which will be headed by a woman and of which not less than half the members should be women. To prevent the possibility of any undue pressure or influence from senior levels, such Complaints Committee should also involve a third party, either NGO or other body who is familiar with the issue of sexual harassment.

The sexual harassment incident disclosed recently by a young woman in the Journal of Indian Law and Society shows that the Supreme Court itself has failed to establish a mechanism of the kind outlined in the celebrated judgment.

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