The recent high profile complaints by staffer of Tehelka Magazine, against her Managing Editor Tarun Tejpal and by law intern against retired Supreme Court judge A K Ganguly are seen as symbol of glaring lack of safety of women at workplace.
These incidents have opened a pandora box of such incidents as other victims are gathering courage to complaint against such evil act.
Patriarchal values and attitudes of men pose the greatest challenge in resolution and prevention of sexual harassment. The problem relates to the roles which are attributed to men and women in social and economic life, which, in turn, directly or indirectly, affects women's positions in the job market.
Sexual harassment is the expression of male power over women and is closely connected to male attitudes about the "proper" role of a MAN in the society. The perception of men about masculinity is being a good provider of his family is strong. Therefore, the feminist drive for economic equality is seen as a threat to their traditional role and thus takes the form of sexual harassment, maybe a tool of self-protection.
Lewd remarks, touching, wolf-whistles, looks are now part of any woman's life, so much so that it is dismissed as normal.
Tolerance at first instance may be taken as acceptance and that may lead to further harassment. Women have accepted themselves as universal victim of such acts and are hesitant to take any action against it because of apprehension of being ridiculed.
Recently reported cases like Tarun Tejpal incident have blown the lid off the hypocrisies and appalling lack of awareness around the issue of sexual harassment and gender rights at the workplace.
Thus, combating sexual harassment involves developing understanding of what is sexual harassment and change of attitudes in all, be it employees, colleagues, friends, administrators, employers or the law makers.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 has widened the definition of sexual harassment and its victims.
Section 2(n )of the Act says sexual harassment "includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour (whether directly or by implication) namely :-physical contact and advances; or a demand or request for sexual favours; or making sexually coloured remarks; or showing pornography; or any other unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature."
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is a positive step toward combating the evil of sexual harassment but it is of no benefit if not implemented in its right spirit.
Every company has to set up a complaint committee and anti sexual harassment policy. In India, majority companies have yet not taken any positive step toward it and if a mechanism is formulated, it is not functional yet.
Mere paper work is not sufficient to tackle this evil. Therefore, concrete steps need to be taken to ensure that such incidents are reported and considered seriously and expeditiously.
Moreover, the Act of 2013 is more centered around complaint redressal mechanism rather than prevention of such act whereas the major hurdle in combating with this evil is that majority of incidents are not reported.
Therefore, along with setting up of a complaints committee and an anti-sexual harassment policy which lays a strong foundation for a sexual harassment free workplace. Effective training programmes are essential to train all their staff members, men and women, to recognise sexual harassment, how to deal with it when it occurs and how to prevent it.
It will ensure the victims that such incidents are unacceptable and will be taken seriously it is being complained. It is the best way to ensure proper understanding and implementation of this policy. It is the best forum to communicate to employees what behaviour is acceptable and what is not, in a non-threatening was and in a atmosphere of mutual learning.
It is very clear that just black and white letters are not enough to provide a safer environment for women at workplace. The issue of sexual harassment needs understanding, assessment, sensitivity and commitment from all quarters but mostly from the senior managerial authority. Their commitment and action can achieve the aim of prevention and effective resolution of sexual harassment at workplace. The mindset of people has to be changed to rescue women from atmosphere of threat, terror and reprisal.