Sexual Harassment : #MeToo Movement

What is Sexual Harassment?

The Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 defines sexual harassment to include any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour (whether directly or by implication) namely:

  1.  Physical contact and advances
  2. A demand or request for sexual favours
  3. Making sexually coloured remarks
  4.  Showing pornography
  5. Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

What is sexual harassment at workplace?

Sexual harassment at the workplace is any unwelcome sexually defined behaviour which has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with the individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, abusive or offensive working environment.

An Indian Context:

  • India has signed and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
  • In 1997 as part of the Vishaka judgment, the Supreme Court drew upon the CEDAW and laid down specific guidelines on the prevention of sexual harassment of women at the workplace.
  • The Vishaka guidelines defined sexual harassment and codified preventive measures and redressal mechanisms to be undertaken by employers.

MeToo Movement:

  • Actor Tanushree Dutta’s had made allegations of harassment at the hands of actor Nana Patekar on a film set a decade ago.
  • Minister of State for External Affairs has been accused of sexual harassment by at least 10 women journalists.
  • In the immediate aftermath of this development, women have been speaking of their experiences and the trauma, mostly on Twitter and Facebook.
  • The testimonies that have so far been expressed have mostly concerned the film world and the mainstream media, and cover both the workplace and private spaces.
  • These testimonies range from stories of assault to propositioning, suggestiveness to stalking.

Origins of the MeToo Movement:

  • The MeToo hashtag gained currency a year ago in the U.S.
  • In the U.S., women came out one after another to first corroborate allegations of sexual assault against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
  • There were many allegations levelled and each further account made it clear that there was a systemic pattern of abuse and silence.

Why this movement and why now?

  • Experts believe that there has been an utter failure of due process.
  • Unfortunately, victims have written formal complaints and have also tried to get their organisations to act, but they have mostly found themselves facing a system that prefers to be complicit with the perpetrators.
  • A couple of cases further illustrate this:
    1. In the case of the former TERI chairman, R.K. Pachauri, for instance, despite the victim filing a police complaint and compelling the organisation to initiate an inquiry, he not only continued in TERI for another year but was publicly supported by the board members.
    2. There is another case of rape that one can sight against the former Editor of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal. In spite of being a “fast track” case, five years on, it has only seen a series of adjournments, with no sign of justice on the horizon.

Experts believe that the failure of due process is the success of #MeToo. After decades of witnessing the impunity of the perpetrators, #MeToo is fuelled by an impunity of sorts of the ‘victims’.

Concluding Remarks:

  • It is important to identify the exact transgression in the various cases that are being expressed, and to ensure that action is taken with due process.
  • Further, it is important to note that no one can be deemed guilty only because he had been named and any punishment must be proportionate to the misdemeanour.
  • It is also important to consider that many people, especially men, have raised concerns regarding false accusations. This remains valid.
  • In conclusion, we should note that there has been a systemic disregard for making workplaces and common spaces free of harassment.
  • All of society needs to internalise a new normal that protects a woman’s autonomy and her freedom from discrimination at the workplace.

Group of Ministers on MeToo:

  • The Centre established a Group of Ministers to recommend measures to effectively implement the law against sexual harassment at the workplace and to strengthen the legal and institutional framework in response to the #MeToo campaign.