Sexual harassment is one of the most heinous crimes in today’s world. It makes the world a dangerous place to stay in times like these. Sexual harassment is seen as an abominable crime according to international standards and is a complete violation of one’s human rights. It is a crime that causes employees to take leave and lowers morale at the workplace. It is pervasive and under-reported but neither any incentives nor strict action has been completely able to report this particular crime.
Meaning of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is defined as behaviour characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situation.
In a way, it can also be said that sexual harassment does not have a definition as it varies all the time from person to person in the way that they would characterize what sexual harassment is depending on the way they would approach it.
In India, sexual harassment is an act that is an act of violence against a woman which should prove the fact that we are living in a patriarchal society. It is basically an act of oppression by a man against a woman who has some weird tastes. Due to there being a lot of situations involving sexual harassment, the state was criticized for normalizing sexual harassment at the workplace.
Mostly sexual harassment is considered as an act of violence and a criminal act. If a joke is made in a suggestive way or a remark is passed on one’s sex then it could also be considered as a form of sexual harassment. It is difficult to appraise the seriousness of sexual harassment as people react differently to different forms of sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment was not acknowledged by anyone in the world until the year 1974 when people began to notice the severity of the situation. That year a case was heard in a district court in the United States where a female employee was laid off her job as she refused to have sexual relations with her employer and she was not protected under employment law in the country.
It gained more recognition following the work of social activist Catherine MacKinnon who stated that it was a crime under the Civil Rights Act, 1964.
Most of the countries across the world followed the United States in acknowledging that sexual harassment was a form of behavior that should not be accepted in one’s workplace. It is now seen as a blatant violation of one’s human rights.
In India, sexual harassment started in the form of eve-teasing. There were various drives and campaigns that were conducted across the country in the 1980s and due to such a large number of campaigners subsequent changes were seen in the rape laws in 1983. It was recognized in India that there were various forms of violence conducted against women which were conformed by social norms and legislative laws.
The year 1997 marked a turning point for the country as from that particular year the laws regarding rape and sexual harassment were made more stringent in the country following the landmark case of Vishaka and others v The State of Rajasthan and others. This case made the government and the country take notice of the atrocities and the daily struggle of the women against sexual harassment. This case was a landmark case seen in the country as there was a widespread backlash by various women’s rights groups across the country.
The Government recognised the seriousness of the situation and enacted a guideline called the ‘Vishaka Guidelines’ that would serve as a temporary guideline until the effective law could be drawn up.
Types of Sexual Harassment
There are essentially two types of sexual harassment which are
Eve-teasing is one of the most common types of sexual harassment which is prevalent in India where the women are plainly harassed in a public setting. It may be in a verbal manner where the woman is subjected to sexually explicit language or may extend to following the women, touching a woman inappropriately and it is to make the women feel uncomfortable in the social setting.
The concept of eve-teasing became known prominently in the 1960s and is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘the making of unwanted sexual remarks or advances by a man to a woman in a public place.’
There is no specific legislation regarding eve-teasing as a menace to society except in the state of Tamil Nadu. In recent times the Supreme Court has laid down many guidelines in the event of protecting the women from any inappropriate gestures. It proposed measures like deputizing plain-clothed policemen, the positioning of CCTV cameras in certain areas, and many more. It further directed the Central and State Governments to make further and adequate measures against this menace.
Most of the incidents are not reported as it causes more humiliation to the women and thus gives encouragement for the trend to continue even though there are strict laws against the same. It is a direct infringement of a woman’s right to live in peace and dignity. Eve- teasing is not a common crime but a crime of violence that takes place every day against women.
Molestation is commonly known as sexual abuse or sexual assault. It is when a man forces himself on an unwilling woman. It is the sexual exploitation of a person for the gratification of another. It is a form of attack on a person’s dignity and is one of the difficult types of cases to report as most of the time the attack that is done on the women is that of a close family member compared to a stranger.
The people who also witness the said crime often do not report the crime as well even though they have a moral obligation as they are scared of the consequences that are there. The molesters themselves threaten the victim to keep silent and undergo the attack of what is happening to them.
One of the most common forms of molestation found in today’s world is called spousal abuse which happens under the cost of the institution called marriage. In this type of marriage, they are illtreated, physically mishandled and tortured almost every single day. It causes trauma and even shock which leads to a reluctance in the filing of cases against the spouse.
To prevent these types of cases there was an amendment by the Criminal Law(Amendment) Act, 2013, in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which deals with the criminal assault against a woman where the punishment for doing the same was changed from 2 years of imprisonment with a fine to a fine or 1 to 5 years or both.
Acts preventing Sexual Harassment in India
There are various Acts that prevent sexual harassment in the country. The Vishaka Guidelines which were enacted in the year 1997 was a prelude to the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 (POSH Act), and were suspended in the year 2013. The POSH Act is designated to protect women from sexual harassment at their place of work. It aims to provide an environment free of sexual harassment that promotes the safety of women and ensures the optimum environment for a woman to work and increase their efficiency.
The 2013 amendment to the Indian Penal Code,1860, through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 dealt with offences and penalties relating to sexual harassment. The punishment provided includes imprisonment, that may extend up to three years, or a fine, depending on the severity of the situation, or both.
Human rights bodies and international conventions and instruments recognize that sexual harassment is a social evil and women need to be protected against it. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women had been ratified by the Government of India on 25th June 1993.
The situation in India regarding sexual harassment remains not only the same as before but is also increasing every year. The Economic Times reported that in the Bombay Stock Exchange, 100 Companies are required to furnish a report of the Sexual Harassment and there has been a 14% increase in the complaints received. There was a total of 823 cases of sexual harassment reported in the year 2019 against the 722 cases reported in the year 2018.
It can be said in a memorandum that even though there are numerous laws protecting the women of our country, this social evil still exists as seen in the rising number of cases across the country.
The laws of the country should be made stricter as to protect women from any harm so that there may be some fear in the person regarding the laws and should not just be let go with a slap on the wrist and a fine that is paid to compensate the said victim.
 AIR 1997 SC 3011.
 The Indian Penal Code,1860, s.354.
 The Indian Penal Code,1860, s.354A.
BY- LISA ALBE ZACHARIAH | NMIMS, NAVI MUMBAI