Sexual harassment at work must end

The Central government has done well to take steps to provide victims of sexual harassment with a protective net. The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has issued an order calling on all ministries and government departments to ensure that a victim of sexual harassment is not posted under the person accused of harassing her. The order makes it mandatory for probes into sexual harassment cases to be completed within a month and stresses that under no circumstances should an investigation exceed 90 days. It goes on to add that in cases where sexual harassment has been proved, a watch must be kept on the victim for a period of five years to ensure that her assailant does not subject her to any kind of revenge for having complained against him. The guidelines are an outcome of a recent interaction between the Ministry for Women and Child Development and the DoPT, where the former raised concerns over the unduly long time that is taken for investigations into sexual harassment allegations. The DoPT has done well to act on the issues raised by the Ministry for Women and Child Development; generally such issues of concern that are raised by another ministry or department end up gathering dust.

Although the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act came into force on April 23, 2013, sexual harassment persists at workplace. The number of cases filed is increasing, reflecting not only persisting harassment but also greater awareness of rights on the part of women. An important
reason for continuing harassment of women at workplace is that there is little support for women. A woman who raises the issue often finds that not only is her fight for justice difficult, humiliating and long-drawn but also, it is a lonely battle. It is often the victim, and not the person who harasses her who is forced to quit. Worse, she rarely gets a job elsewhere as nobody wants to hire a ‘troublemaker.’  Steps are needed, therefore, to protect the victim from isolation at the workplace. Her fight for justice must be supported by the workplace’s human resources department.

Importantly, the Ministry for Women and Child Development and the DoPT must take steps to ensure that victims of sexual harassment who file complaints are not subjected to maligning by the accused. In many instances, the accused seeks to tarnish the reputation of the complainant by posting offensive pictures or stories about the victim in a bid to weaken her argument and position. In addition to keeping an eye on the victim in the office space to ensure her wellbeing, the government should protect her in cyberspace as well.

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