ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Way Things Are

Workplace Sexual Harassment

Sixteen years after the landmark Vishaka case judgment of the Supreme Court, the government introduced in the Lok Sabha in September 2012 a defective Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill. The Act, as it stands, has failed to draw on the extensive research on sexual harassment that has been done in this country and elsewhere. Further, its inaccurate phrasing of workplace sexual harassment and mismatches between subheadings and content of the text eclipses the most common forms of workplace sexual harassment.

Before 1997, “sexual harassment” had never settled into the Indian legal lexicon. We were instead saddled with an archaic Victorian template which criminalised “outraging or insulting” a “woman’s modesty”. It made us pretend that we had it all covered. But we never did. Unwelcome words, gestures, images, language, and all those subtle intangibles which sexually violate a woman, were comfortably woven into the pattern of life rather than the fabric of law. It all became a silent and acceptable part of “the way things are”.

Bhanwari Case

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