A Four Week Online Certificate Training Course on “Ending Violence Against Women: Awareness of Laws and Policies in India”, organized by the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), at the IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi. The session was on “Legal Safeguards Against Violence in Public Spaces and Workplaces” by Adv. Celin Thomas, Advocate at Celin Thomas and Associates, Bengaluru. Inaugurating the session Bhavni Bansal, a researcher at IMPRI, welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with an introduction to the eminent panelists.
Guidelines Given by the Law
The speaker started the session by emphasizing on the fact that providing a safe space is an employer’s responsibility. The Supreme Court has given clear cut guidelines on how the workspace should be a safe space and a non-hostile environment should prevail. After the Bhanwari Devi incident, the Vishakha Guidelines, given by the apex court in the country, helps the organization to establish a mechanism which will help the victim to raise a complaint and seek justice within the organisation.
The companies need to note and publish how often they conduct training and sensitisation sessions for their members, which often involve an external member. Adv Thomas explained in detail how important these sessions are in order to make the members of the organisation understand that victim blaming is part of the problem and providing safety to women at the workplace is extremely essential, as they constitute a large fraction of the workforce. Not making them feel safe, will lead to them dropping out which will lead to a huge downward push to the national GDP.
Trying To Cover All Aspects
The law is very extensive as it mentions, “Any other physical or verbal or nonverbal conduct of sexual nature”, which makes it a point, that not act of sexual harassment occurs in the name of “culture”. The speaker gave an example of greetings in the west involving kissing the other person’s cheek, but the same in India, might seem to be inappropriate so this extension of the law helps to bring in all forms of sexual misconduct under the criminal umbrella.
Loopholes in the Law
The law is undoubtedly a path breaking one, however, one major lack of the same is that it considers only women as the victims. According to the law, which aims to make the workplace a safe space, the victim can only be an aggrieved woman, not a man, however, the respondent can either be a woman or a man. This lack of the law, makes men vulnerable to sexual violence and harrasment at workplace.
The speaker mentioned that the UGC Guidelines to prevent sexual harassment in higher education institutions mentions that the victims can be of any gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, and these are protected attributes of the victim and cannot be used against them or used to not register their complaint. According to the speaker, this is a much more extensive law as the POSH Law as they include people of all genders as a victim.
The speaker explained the entire process of how one can reach out to the internal committee of the company and how important it is for the company to publish the contact details for those who are the members of the Internal Complaints Committee. The speaker also explained in detail that if the complaint wants an informal solution to their problem, what can they do and how the committee needs to know that what the informal solution was, i.e was is the agreement between the victim and the abused and make sure that the terms of the agreement are meant, if not, it becomes the committee’s responsibility to take the matter and provide a solution for the victim.
The speaker explained that the following way is supposed to be adopted in matters of complaint of sexual harassment, speak to complainant, recommend interim action, if requested, share the complaint with respondent along with IC details, facilitate concillation/ enquiry, conclude findings, prepare the report, share the report and track actions of sexual harrasment and hostile work environment.
While concluding her enlightening session, Adv. Thomas pressed upon the fact that harassment and rape is perpetrated against a human being is an attack on self and individuality of an individual. It is extremely crucial that boundaries are made by individuals and those boundaries are accepted by other individuals and if someone tries to cross that boundary there should be a strong mechanism in place that helps the victim to get justice against the injustice committed with them.
Acknowledgements: Abhivyakti is a Research Intern at IMPRI.
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