WOMAN IN LAW

POONGKHULALI. B

Satrupa worked in a leading software company at a mid-level position. She soon began reporting directly to a senior official named Indrajit. He began to make her stay well beyond official hours under various pretexts, insisting that she work out of his room. Meetings turned into informal chat sessions with embarrassing personal questions. He commented on her dress, make-up and even her hair style. Her endurance reached its limit when he started forwarding e-mails with obscene and suggestive photographs and tried discussing them. Satrupa decided to confront him. She told him that she didn’t appreciate his behaviour and asked him to stop. Indrajit took huge offence. He used foul language, threatened her, and said that he could sabotage her career.

Satrupa complained to the Internal Complaints Committee in her company. They asked if she was willing to settle for conciliation. She refused. The Committee conducted a full enquiry, examined witnesses, and gave Indrajit fair opportunity to present his case, although recommending that he be transferred, pending a decision. The Committee soon found a clear case of sexual harassment, and recommended the removal of Indrajit and payment of compensation to Satrupa. Indrajit appealed to the High Court, pleading that it has never been his intention to harass Satrupa and the punishment was disproportionate. The Court rejected the claim and pointed to the repeated instances where she had openly stated that she was uncomfortable with his behaviour. The Court justified the punishment citing that Indrajit had abused his position of authority.

The story above describes a successful use of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. Just three months old, the Act mandates a Complaints Committee in every workplace. It also mandates district officials to set up a Local Complaints Committee in every district.

Of course, not all stories need be black and white. There are varying degrees of harassment, unacceptable to different extents to different people. Similarly, action varies from a warning, written apology, transfer order, compensation or, in extreme cases, termination and criminal action.

The important thing is to recognise sexual harassment and know when to act. Typically, it’s an unwelcome act or behaviour, either direct or implied, which includes physical advances, demands or requests for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, sharing pornography, other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature. It also includes promises of promotions, threats of dismissal, and creating an intimidating work atmosphere.

Here’s what you can do: Submit a complaint within three months of the incident to your company’s Internal Complaints Committee. If it does not exist, go to the Local Complaints Committee in your district. The committees are to be headed by a woman, have one member from an NGO background, and have not less than 50 per cent women members. All proceedings are confidential.

The law extends to the unorganised sector and domestic servants also. If a complaint is false or malicious, action can be taken against the woman. A failure on behalf of the employer to constitute a Committee or take action is a penal offence. It could lead to a cancellation of license to carry on business. It is the duty of the employer to provide a safe working environment to all employees. Read up the law at wcd.nic.in/wcdact/womenactsex.pdf