Know the Law – Sexual Harassment at Workplace

When young women complete their education and enthusiastically apply for jobs; they seek a lifetime of learning, adventure and financial security. They plan their wardrobes, do their homework about the organization, meticulously plan their first day at work and prepare to make a lasting great impression in the new work environment.  They take their work friendships seriously and feel proud to put in extra efforts at the job, only desirous to emerge like a star. With every passing month that they invest at work, there is furious strategizing that goes on in their minds about their long term career trajectory. This is just one part of the story. The other part is less exciting (for the want of a better word). Countless women are deprived of quality education and their stunted access to infrastructure often has them ending up being married to their employment – literally. Having been rid off, by the natal family through matrimony; many women work to support their husband’s family. They find themselves overworked, unpaid and very often, unappreciated.


When I think about the word ‘ambition’, I am reminded of the scene in the movie ‘Devil Wears Prada’, when Anne Hathaway is en route for an interview at the Runway fashion magazine. By the time she digs into her onion bagel, many other contenders are already shown to have prepared themselves to an interview for the same designation. Is it not what everyone would love – an employment that is life’s purpose? The Hindustan Times reported prominent sexual harassment cases, roughly spanning through this decade. It was horrifying to observe that all those came from head honchos of the most sought after organizations. Imagine dreams dying exactly where they were created! Imagine the light going out of those starry eyes. Imagine the pulsating spirit deadening into eerie silence. Imagine this death that takes place at so many levels within an individual.


As per the National Sample Survey Organization (2011-2012), the Indian women’s workforce participation is 25 percent in urban areas and 15 percent in rural areas. Of the total, 93 percent women are engaged in informal sector employment. Renana Jhabvala defines the unorganized sector as “informal arrangements of work including home-based, casual and self-employed workers, also temporary, part-time workers and micro-entrepreneurs. All self-employed workers belong to this category, as do all landless laborers, marginal and small farmers. Petty traders, mine workers, casual laborers, domestic workers, bidi makers and street vendors are also included in this sector.” Given the complex nature of the informal sector and the overall abysmal levels of women workforce participation; it is imperative to create enabling environment, so that one of the hurdles stemming economic growth and resultant women empowerment is exterminated.

The Sexual Harassment at Workplace is a law that covers both – women working in the formal and the informal sector. The Handbook on Sexual Harassment at Workplace, in a lucid manner has elaborated upon definitions of workplace and sexual harassment. The handbook can also be a ready reckoner for readers to identify what can be termed as harassment and what needs to be done in the event of such incidents. As per the Government mandate, the individual States are to appoint all the District Magistrates to carry out the law implementation at the Taluka / Tehsil, Block / Ward level.  The handbook also serves as a guideline on establishing and functioning of such Government supported redressal committees.


Although it is commendable that there is a system in place for addressing a prevalent indent that destroys not only the individual but also destroys a healthy culture for economic growth to thrive; it is imperative to understand that implementation of one law is not only absent as we speak of it; but it has proven insufficient to deal with the challenges of informal sector.