MeToo: Must-know guide to sexual harassment laws for working women in India

The #MeToo movement which began in the United States over a year ago with allegations of sexual harassment against film producer Harvey Weinstein, gained impetus in India in the last few days after actor Tanushree Dutta revived her sexual harassment accusation against veteran actor Nana Patekar. Dutta claimed Nana Patekar behaved inappropriately with her during a film shoot. This was followed by a lot of women recounting their ‘harassment’ experiences. And thus began India’s #MeToo movement. Women from media, entertainment, and corporate industry came forward and thus came out several skeletons of horrifying stories of harassment perpetrated by men holding top positions.

Two decades after the Vishakha Guidelines and five years after the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013 came into existence, a wave of the ‘Me Too’ movement has reached India.

There are several laws under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that tends to make workplaces safer for women. Here’s a quick guide that makes you aware of the laws of the Indian Penal Code. Be it eve-teasing or molestation in a public transport, there are laws to protect women.

IPC Section 294: Doing any obscene act in any public place. Singing, reciting or uttering obscene songs or words in or near any public space shall be punished with imprisonment for up to three months or fined, or both.

IPC Section 354 (A): Making unwanted physical contact with a woman against a woman’s will may land you in jail for about three years.

IPC Section 354 (C): Watching or capturing the image of a woman in a private act without her consent is voyeurism. The man shall be punished with imprisonment for 1-3 years in addition to a fine. If the accused is convicted the second time he may face a jail term for 3-7 years and fine.

IPC Section 354 (D): Stalking i.e. following someone with or without their knowledge. The accused shall be punished with imprisonment for 1-3 years or fine, or both.

IPC Section 499: Morphing picture/s of a woman and sharing them with intent to harass and defame her is a crime. The accused shall be punished with imprisonment for up to 2 years or fine or both.

IPC Section 503: If a woman refuses to someone’s sexual favours and is met by threats for physical or reputational harm shall be punished with imprisonment for 2 years or fine, or both.

IPC Section 67 of IT Act: Posting any obscene or defamatory material on a public online platform intending to harass a woman is a crime. The accused shall be punished with imprisonment for 2 years with a fine.

IPC Section 509: Uttering words, gesture or act intended to harm the modesty of a woman shall be punished with imprisonment for 2 years or with fine, or both. Also abusing a woman with sexual remarks on social media may land the accused in jail for about 3 years and fine.

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013

  • A senior colleague demanding sexual favours in exchange for work benefits –promotion or salary hike.
  • Any workplace with more than 10 employees should have an internal complaints committee.
  • If an act of sexual harassment happens inside the transportation facility provided by the organisation, you have the right to a complaint under the act.
  • The committee can take action against the complainant in case of false allegation. But, if the complainant is not being able to prove herself doesn’t mean her allegations are false.
  • If a woman complaints about sexual harassment in a workplace, the inquiry has to be completed in 90 days.
  • Your domestic help also comes under the act, considering your home her workplace.

Is complaint in writing mandatory?
For the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to act, a complaint by the victim in writing is not mandatory. Any member from the committee can provide assistance to her for submitting the complaint. In case of death or physical or mental incapacity, her legal heir is allowed to do so.

The committee may take steps to settle the issue between the complainant and the respondent through conciliation.

What happens next?
Further, the ICC should start an inquiry that has to be completed within 90 days or forward the complaint to the police. After completion of the inquiry, the committee has to submit a report to the employer with 10 days. If the complaint is found to be false, action against the women can be taken.

Background of Vishakha guidelines
In the 1990s, a Rajasthan state government employee Bhanwari Devi tried to stop child marriages as part of her job. Enraged by her the landlords of the community with an aim to teach her a lesson raped her repeatedly. Unfortunately, she was not served justice by the Rajasthan High Court and the rapists were let free. This enraged a lot of women and a PIL was filed by women groups including Vishakha. In 1997, in a landmark judgment, laid down guidelines to be followed by establishments in dealing with complaints about sexual harassments.

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