“A Gender-Equal Society would be one where the word ‘Gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”
– Gloria Steinem
In today’s globalized world, women have put their lasting impression on all fields such as space, sports, politics, education, science, literature, and technology, etc. Around 2 decades ago when the role of women changed from homemaker to bread owners, this was not taken well by society and the offenses against them had increased which led to the rise in the momentum to give them a safe environment for work. Sexual harassment at the workplace is the violation of a women’s fundamental right guaranteed by our Constitution under Articles 14, 19(1)g and 21.
Sexual harassment as the name suggests is a form of Sex Discrimination. The act which deals with workplace harassment is “Sexual Harassment at workplace (Prevention, Prohibition And Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH Act)”. Under POSH Act the term “sexual harassment” is defined under section 2 clause (n), which says that it is an unwelcomed behavior whether directly or implicitly. It can be physical contact and advances or demand of sexual favours or remarks or showing porn or any other unwanted physical, verbal, or non-verbal act which is of sexual nature. This act came as a lifeline for the working women but after approximately 1 decade of its implementation, it required some major reforms which the author aims to discuss in this article.
In India, the origin of laws involving Sexual Harassment at Work Place has not been very old. The case of Bhanwari Devi, where she suffered from rape that is sexual harassment at the workplace brought impetus against the harassment at the workplace. Later Vishakha and other women filed a Public Interest Litigation in contradiction of this cause against Rajasthan State in the Supreme Court of India.
The case of Vishakha Vs state of Rajasthan was the most preliminary footstep which was taken by the Supreme Court where it was observed that such harassment and discrimination towards women is a pure violation of human rights. In subsequent of the judgment in the next 1.5 decades, the Parliament passed an act called Sexual Harassment at workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH Act)”. The aim of the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act was to attempt towards the establishment of a healthy environment for the people who are not covered under the labour laws especially for women. Regrettably, now in this dynamic world when everyone has become at par with each other, unfortunately, certain false allegations are put up by women just to satisfy personal scores which allow such people to misuse the act.
MIRROR TO FALSE COMPLAINTS
The assumption that the Men of the society are not infected from the patriarchal format and cultural stereotypes has now turned into a myth. Today when we analyze the data, there has been an increasing number of cases where men are targeted at the workplace by filing false complaints against them. This is not only a major harm to a person’s reputation but also acts as mental agony for them. Under section 14 of the POSH act, it makes clear on when a complaint is not substantive then it can be classified as a false complaint. According to Section 14 of the POSH Act, if there is a lack of adequate proof and malafide intention then it can be regarded as a false complaint by the internal committee.
The requirement of substantive and adequate proof was given importance in the case of Dr. Susmita Banerjee v. Kolkata Port Trust & Ors, it was observed that in the absence of appropriate evidence or witness to confirm the allegation, consequently, the complaint will be termed as baseless. The accused in this case was acquitted under section 14 due to the deficiency of proof to establish the guilt.
There have been cases where the complaint was filed to defame that person for taking vengeance. Such complaints were again quashed under section 14. In the case of Madras High Court in Union of India v. Reema Srinivasan, where it was reiterated that if a complaint filed against the accused is to settle a personal score then the complaint will be termed as null and void. Thus, it was held that the POSH act cannot be distorted by women who have false allegations.
These false complaints are a major setback to the reputation of honest men. This led to mistrust which is developed among men to work with women because of the fear that it might lead to wrong accusations. Further, such false charges lead to a situation where even the frank allegation is not trusted.
NEED OF GENDER-NEUTRAL LAWS
When we talk about society then the pillars of patriarchy are so deep-rooted that the male victims are not allowed to share their encounter of harassment, because it goes against the society’s expectations and norms of them being Macho Man. Under a report released by BCC reflected the depraved situation where it was specified that in a survey conducted in 2017, 53 percent reports of sexual harassment were reported by women whereas for men it was merely 20 percent but the truth was reflected in the same survey when it was found 63 percent women and 79 percent men failed to file the report against such misconduct and transgression.
Therefore, when we talk about reality the existing laws are not efficient enough to protect the male gender from sexual harassment. In 2013 the Justice Verma committee suggested reforms to sexual harassment laws by making them gender-neutral. Surprisingly it has yet not been incorporated. Sexual Harassment Act at the workplace took the women-centric approach to sexual harassment and thus requires improvement by making it gender-neutral. Because even men suffer from harassment at the workplace, this may be because of other women or even other men.
In the 21st Century, when the law and society have started accepting the third gender it is very much important that the legislature works towards making sexual harassment laws gender-neutral, extensive and liberal. In the recent judgment of Madras High Court guidelines and directions to support the people of the LGBTQ community were issued. This is a small effort made by law towards the establishment of gender equality in society. Therefore, now it’s high time to include the people of the LGBTQ community under the ambit of harassment laws thus giving them a harmless employed environment. This will not only help them to develop their personality but also come out and work fearlessly.
CONCLUSION & SUGGESTIONS
As Graca Machel once said, “Gender equality is the goal that will help abolish poverty that will create more equal economies, fairer societies, and happier men, women, and children.” Hence, we need to work towards the accomplishment of gender equality in law by making the harassment laws gender-neutral and not merely women-centric. This will help in the overall development of the society and will directly or indirectly help in the development of the nation in all social, political, and economic areas.
The recommendation which the author wants to make is for both the law and society. So, when we analyse where lies the problem? We come to the inference that women are highly protected under the realm of law and society is equally biased toward men. But we need to develop a sense of equality and balance otherwise such misconduct and misuse will continue to be prevalent. Therefore, the law and society both should be gender-neutral and not support any particular sex. Another suggestion which the author wants to put forward is that whenever a false complaint is found, then merely quashing the accusation will not set an example for the society thus a compensation according to the damage which has been committed to the reputation and mental torture should also be awarded so that in future no one misuses the privileges granted to them.
Author(s) Name: Maitreyee Dubey (University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun)
 UC SANTA BARBARA, The Current <https://www.news.ucsb.edu/events/gloria-steinem-simulcast#:~:text=%E2%80%9CA%20gender%2Dequal%20society%20would,In%20her%20ninth%20decade…> assessed on 10-09-2021.
 Punjab and Sind Bank v. Durgesh Kuwar,  SCC OnLine MP 485
 Vishakha Vs State of Rajesthan,  6 SCC 214.
  SCC Online Cal 18079.
 Union of India v. Reema Srinivasan Iyengar, WP Nos. 10689, 24290 and 4339 of 2019.
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 PRS Legislative Research, “Justice Verma Committee Report Summary”, < https://prsindia.org/policy/report-summaries/justice-verma-committee-report-summary > assessed 11th September, 2021.
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