THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY PRACHI KOTIA, A STUDENT OF SCHOOL OF LAW, INDORE.
Women are stepping into every sector of work, working equally and efficiently with their male colleagues. With the independence of nation and the formation of Constitution of India, which gave freedom and confidence to women to work with dignity and to become independent. As women are flying high with their wings open without any fear and with the dreamof conquering the world. There comes the responsibility of society to provide them good working environment without any form of discrimination which will help them to grow.
But with this development there also increased the exploitation of women,which were mostly not reported and women out of fear started stepping out of the job. One of the most common exploitation was the sexual exploitation at the work place.
Sexual harassment is basically an unwelcomed sexually determined behaviour such as Physical contact, a demand or requests for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography or any other unwelcome physical or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
This problem was highlighted in the famous case of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, where The Apex court of India for the very first time acknowledged sexual harassment at workplace. And on the basis of it Vishaka’s guideline, where the guideline issued was taken as “Law”. According to which it was made compulsory for the employer to follow it and to comply with it and to prevent any kind of sexual harassment at workplace. It was mandatory for employer to follow every aspect of the guideline but it was seen that the guidelines were not strictly followed and no proper diligence was given to it.
As the participation of women in workplace increased it became essential for the government to make some provision for the protection of women against the sexual exploitation at the work place. Hence The Sexual Harassment at workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 came into being.
The Sexual Harassment Act, 2013
The Act was finally enacted after a long process in the year 2013. Its aim is to prevent and prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace and provides for Redressal for the same.
Sexual harassment is a violation of Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Article 14 i.e. Right to Equality, Article 15 i.e. State shall not be prevented to make any special provision related to women and children respectively, of the constitution of India, Article 19(1)(g) i.e. Right to practise any profession or to carry on any trade or business and Article 21 i.e. Right to life and live with dignity.
It is also clearly mentioned in the act “that the protection against sexual harassment and the right to work with dignity are universally recognised human rights by the conventions and instruments such as convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women”
The term “aggrieved woman” has been given a very wide interpretation besides the workplace it includes lawyers, students in schools and colleges, it also includes patients in hospitals, domestic helpers, public or private sector and covers customers, clients as well.Theact provides for the formation of Internal Complaints Committee and Local Complaints Committee.
Internal Complaints Committee
The act made it compulsory for the employer having more than 10 employees to form an Internal Complain Committee to address the complain of the aggrieved woman. Employer who fails to comply with it will be punished with a fine upto 50,000 rupees. The committee shall consist of:
- A Presiding Officer,
- Not less than two members from amongst the employees preferably committed to the cause of women or who have had experience in social work or have legal knowledge and
- One member from a NGO or associations committee to the cause of women employees
The committee is required to complete the inquiry within a time period of 90 days. And on completion of the enquiry, the report is sent to employer or the District officer who shall take action within 60 days.
The complaint committee has the power of Civil Court for gathering evidence. The process of committee must be kept confidential on the breach of it the person shall be fined with the amount of rupees 5000/-
Local Complaints Committee
Where there are less than 10 workers Local Complaints Committee is formed for every district as there cannot be Internal Complaint Committee.
The complaint must be filed by the victim in writing within three months from the incident. And if there are series if incidents then form the last incident. When proper reason are established then the time period may be extended. In case of physical incapability the legal heir can file the case and also a friend by giving specific reason. The inquiry must be completed within 90 days of the filing of the complaint. during the inquiry period the victim can ask for transfer or 3 months leave or other reliefs.
Lacunae of the Act
- One of the biggest drawback of the Act is that the exclusive power given to the women. The Act only protects female workers and not the male workers and thus provides men with no remedy in case of sexual exploitation against them.
- Women can misuse the protection given under this Act. They might malicious use this protection against any men whom they dislike by making false charges on them.
- This Act does not include agriculture workers and armed forces.
Women are often taken as subordinate to men and thus they become easy prey of the vicious minded men and are exploited. In course of sexual exploitation women besides physical exploitation also suffers from mental breakdown and emotional distress which affect their work performance. This Act has been made to empower women to raise their voices against such exploitation without any fear and with head held high. This act prevents and protects the women employees and also give them Redressal power. This Act provides a major boost to women empowerment. But there are few loopholes in the act which when worked upon will make a strong protection of rights of women.