the rights of
female employees/students and the responsibilities of EMPLOYERS TO prevent and
redress sexual harassment in the workplace
The Women's Cell of IIT Bombay was established in 2002, in accordance with the
Supreme Court ruling of 1997 on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The law on sexual harassment:
The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace has formed a part of the legal
discourse in India, following the 1997 landmark case of Vishaka and Others
vs. the State of Rajasthan.
The Government of India's international (apart from its constitutional)
obligations, such as its commitment to CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of
all forms of Discrimination Against Women), reinforce the legal discourse of
Sexual harassment is illegal, and is a violation of human rights.
The ruling of the Supreme Court on sexual harassment as a violation of human
rights is a recognition of this kind of harassment as systematic discrimination
against women, rather than crime against individuals.
The Supreme Court has issued guidelines to prevent, as well as punish,
perpetrators of sexual harassment, and has made it legally mandatory for
employers to deploy measures for combating and redressing incidents of sexual
harassment in the workplace.
Duties and responsibilities
of the employer:
The Vishaka judgement of the Supreme Court has placed the responsibility of
addressing and redressing sexual harassment on the employer.
Failure on the part of the employer to create organizational mechanisms to
prevent and redress sexual harassment is tantamount to contempt of court.
The principal mechanism for redress as required by the Vishaka judgement is the
setting up of a complaints committee. Headed by a woman, and with women
constituting more than fifty percent of its members, the committee must also
have a third party member. This external member can be any individual/NGO
representative independent from the organization, and familiar with the issue of
The employer may draft and make accessible to everyone in the organization, a
policy that describes sexual harassment to include, besides the Vishaka
guidelines (see next section), unwelcome physical advances, demands for sexual
favours, display of pornographic material, dissemination of pornographic emails,
text messages etc.
Sexual harassment defined:
According to the
Vishaka guidelines of the Supreme Court, sexual harassment is defined as
unwelcome sexually determined behaviour such as:
physical contact, gestures, or stalking
demand or request for sexual favours
sexually oriented remarks
use of electronic media (phone, internet) for perpetrating offensive acts
any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.
It is important to note here that what constitutes sexual harassment is
defined by the victim, and not by the perpetrator
Recognising sexual harassment:
Sexual harassment could be difficult to identify due to prevailing and pervasive
myths such as
decently dressed women are not sexually harassed,
women who object to sexual harassment are over-reacting,
women keep quiet when harassed because they like eve-teasing,
and sexist attitudes such as
women ask to be sexually harassed and have no right to complain.
The above instances are examples of further victimizing and traumatizing victims
of sexual harassment.
Attempts to influence/intimidate by linking professional advancement with sexual
favours, or creating a hostile work environment through (for instance) sexually
coloured conversations, letters, telephone calls and text messages, or making
demeaning comments about women's roles in society are all cases of sexual
In short, the definition of sexual harassment is broad enough to include all
kinds of offensive, hostile, intimidating, humiliating and exploitative
language, gestures and conduct.