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Sexual harassment in workplace causes and remedies.

In India the concern of sexual harassment of women at work place is increasing. Every other day instance of sexual harassment pops up. It is good for the nation that now more and more instances are being reported so that the issue can be understood with depth. In India the issue is not being treated with gender neutrality and according to the law only a woman can be subjected to sexual harassment. There is a growing consensus among the HR departments of leading firms world over, which deal with the issue more often that even males are being subjected to such harassment by other females or male colleagues. Hence the issue is not limited to the fairer sex.

It is very important to understand what sexual harassment legally means in India. In the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2013 it is defined as "unwelcome sexual gesture or behaviour whether directly or indirectly, sexually coloured remarks, physical contact and advances, showing pornography, a demand or request for sexual favours, any other physical , verbal/non verbal conduct being sexual in nature and passing offensive and unacceptable remarks."

The issue of sexual harassment of women at workplace came into major limelight due to Bhavari Devi Case of 1992. The incident unfolded the traumatic condition through which one woman has to pass even after being subjected to a heinous crime of rape. The poor functioning and passive attitude of the state machineries in handling the issue was exposed. This resulted into issuance of Vishakha Guidelines in a landmark judgement by the Supreme Court of India in 1997 which has to be adhered to until legislation is passed in the assembly regarding the issue.

It was good on the part of SC to issue guidelines because it took another 15 years for passing legislation on 23rd April 2013 and that too due to public outrage after Delhi Gang Rape of December 2012.

The issue of sexual harassment is really complex due to role of various elements such as society, psychology, job security and career comes into play. Professionals handle work in teams which consists of both the sexes. They work together and travel together for the work. This creates intimacy but at times the limit is crossed. Tolerance at the first instance may be taken as acceptance which may lead to further harassment.

Today women have reached the board rooms from kitchens. They are taking up leadership roles at all levels. At times this might be posing challenge to the role of males who traditionally haven't work under the females and hence are reluctant to accept their control and dominance. Politics at workplace in the form of bullying, job insecurity and frustration aids the issue. Personal problems can also be a factor, and sexual harassment can be a symptom of the effects of life traumas such as divorce, or death of a spouse or child.

Another fear in the minds of women is that she wouldn't be heard on the issue or no concrete steps would be taken. So either she tries to get herself transferred or leaves the job instead of being vocal. The reason for this is even after Vishakha Guidelines and Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act the Governmental as well as private organizations hasn't been proactive to form Sexual Harassment committees as per the instructions.

Department of Women and Child Welfare should look in this regard and assure that there is adequate women representation in the committee as per norms. In brief the employer should be made responsible for providing a safe working atmosphere for women by taking preventive measure. The preventive measures can be through (1) spreading awareness regarding the legal provisions and its penal consequence through training (2) display of such law through posters at the workplace (3) framing their own sexual abuse policy which will also show their commitment for the cause (4) impartial mechanism for the redressal of the issue.

As mentioned earlier that there is a growing consensus about the male sexual harassment. Males are less vocal since their masculinity and gender orientation would be questioned in the society. Legislators and judiciary should be proactive in this regard also even though the problem is in the budding stage instead of taking curative measure after any incidence.

Ninaad Athalye