GoMs on lynchings, harassment on hold

Prelims level : Social Issues Mains level : GS - II
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Two important Groups of Ministers (GoMs) constituted by the Centre last year to suggest measures on anti-lynching and prevention of sexual harassment of women at workplace have been put in the cold storage due to the forthcoming elections.

Vishakha Judgement

  • The Supreme Court in 1997 in the case of Vishakha vs. state of Rajasthan provided the first authoritative decision of ‘sexual harassment’ in India; and confronted with a statutory vacuum, it went creative and proposed the route of ‘judicial legislation’.
  • It laid down the requirements for employers dealing with complaints of sexual assault and stipulated the formation of committees to dispose of complaints from victims of harassment. These guidelines came to be known as Vishakha Guidelines.
  • This is part of what the Supreme Court had stated in 1997 that gender equality under Article 14, 19 and Right to Life under Article 21, the dignity of women has to be maintained.

Definition of Sexual Harassment as defined by the court:

  • Anything at work that can place the working woman at disadvantage compared to other male employees in her official career just because she is a woman – can be termed as sexual harassment.
  • Unwelcome sexually determined behaviour & demands from males employees at the workplace, such as:
  • Any physical contacts and advances,
  • Sexually coloured remarks,
  • Showing pornography,
  • Passing lewd comments or gestures,
  • Sexual demands by any means,
  • Any rumours/talk at the workplace with sexually coloured remarks about a working woman, or
  • Spreading rumours about a woman’s sexual relationship with anybody.

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013:3

This Act seeks to protect women from sexual harassment at their place of work superseding the Vishakha Guidelines introduced by the Supreme Court.

MWCD Handbook:

  • The Ministry of Women & Child Development (MWCD) has published a Handbook in this regard.
  • It gives more detailed instances of behaviour that constitutes sexual harassment at the workplace:
  • Sexually suggestive remarks, offensive remarks, inappropriate questions or remarks about a person’s sex life
  • Display of sexist/offensive pictures, posters, MMS, SMS etc
  • Intimidation, threats, blackmail around sexual favours; also, any kind of threats against an employee who speaks up
  • Unwelcome social invitations with sexual overtones, commonly seen as flirting/Unwelcome sexual advances
  • It says “unwelcome behaviour” is experienced when the victim feels bad or powerless, causing anger/sadness or negative self-esteem.
  • It adds that unwelcome behaviour is one which is “illegal, demeaning, invading, one-sided and power based”.
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