Sexual harassment is not crying ‘Wolf’ for vested interests

In the year 2013 and 2015, Tarun Tejpal (ex-editor of Tehelka Magazine) and Rajendra Pachauri (ex-Director General TERI and Chairman, IPCC) were under legal scanner for sexual harassment to women colleagues who were also junior to them, in designations. On 11th November 2016, the Times of India reported another such incident of Tata Sons’ woman employee resigning from her job owing to sexual harassment by the Chief Executive Officer of Indian Hotels Company (IHCL). Before she resigned, she was not only tossed around departments but also transferred to IHCL from the Tata Group.


There are two reflex reactions when instances of sexual harassment come to the fore. The first being the vehement defenses pouring in from the cynics who look at the allegation as a misuse of protective laws for women and the second is skeptical analysis of the victim’s accusation. The issue at hand does not receive the grave attention and empathy it deserves, without first dealing with justifications regarding misandry and vested ulterior motives. When I wrote about this issue in the past, I found myself objectively and humanely place this issue of human rights’ violation by first having to prove that it is indeed so.  This is an indication that women have to prove they are not misandrists even when misogyny continues to thrive as a social culture.

What is alarming is the brazenness with which the perpetrators attack the victim repeatedly and at multiple levels. Pachauri has been charged with sexual harassment for ‘assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe’, ‘stalking’, ‘word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman’ and ‘wrongful confinement’. The reality of workplaces being patriarchal is a social phenomena no doubt; it is another matter altogether that the Indian law dealing with the Sexual Harassment at Workplace is robust in design but poor in implementation. Neither are there policy provisions for institutions that can ensure effective implementation of the existing law; nor are there mechanisms for dealing with the complex nature of the informal sector which is currently out of the purview of the aforementioned law. There are complexities involved in the informal sector where it is difficult to implement the law and where majority of the women work force is concentrated. When we say ‘majority’, we are talking about 93 percent women workforce in informal sector engagement (Jhabvala, Renana). The overall participation of women in economy is approximately 45 percent, of which 30 percent are from cities (Statistical Profile of Women Labour, 2011).



It is important that for ensuring decent work for women by creating not just legal framework but also its implementation mechanism which should categorize labor force in ‘reachable’ and ‘non-reachable’ category. Tribals, migrant workers, self-employed and those engaged in family enterprise would constitute the latter category. The current situation is dismal regarding implementation of labor laws; although the systems for the same have been created efficiently.

Work is not the woe for women who quit employment. Had that been the case, there would have been productive capacity building initiatives. Patriarchy and its resulting by-products have been chronic deterrents to progress. Something as an organization, we have been flagging for over 3 decades.

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