Sexual Harassment at work places

Dr. Kavita Suri

In the recent few years, as more and more Indian women are coming out of their houses to work, there has been an increase in the incidents of violence against them. A global study conducted by Thomson Reuters terms India as the “fourth most dangerous country” in the world for women. Violence against women in India which is too complex takes too many forms and intersects with too many other issues. The issue of sexual harassment with women is quite a burning one and the statistics also show an increase in violence and crime against women. Even as Delhi gang rape in December 2012 evoked an unprecedented outrage throughout the country, complaining about sexual harassment and such cases is still considered a taboo in our country where majority of such incidents go un-noticed. Inadequate support system, delay in justice and the social stigma attached to the victim refrain women from reporting such cases to law enforcing agencies.

Sexual harassment, a definition
Sexual harassment has come to be widely recognized as form of human rights violation. It is not only a barrier amongst many against women’s right to work but it is also one of the most common forms of sexual violation faced by women. Women are sexually harassed in the offices, schools, streets, public transport, corporate office and at other different workplaces. Sexual harassment occurs when a woman despite having clearly indicated her disinterest, is pressured into tolerating or accepting undesirable sexual advances by someone who is in a position of power over her and is able to harm her interests if she declines to tolerate these advances.
Sexual harassment is of different types including verbal, nonverbal, physical, quid pro quo etc.
It takes place if a person subjects another person to an unwelcome act of physical intimacy like grabbing, brushing, touching, pinching etc., makes an unwelcome demand or request (whether directly or by implication) for sexual favours from another person, and makes it a condition for employment/payment of wages/increment/promotion, makes an unwelcome remark with sexual connotations, like sexually explicit compliments/cracking loud jokes with sexual connotations/ making sexist remarks etc., shows a person any sexually explicit visual material in the form of pictures/cartoons/pin-ups/ calendars/screen savers on computers/any offensive written material/pornographic e-mails, etc. or engages in any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which could be verbal, or even non-verbal, like staring to make the other person uncomfortable, making offensive gestures, kissing sounds, etc.
Addressing sexual harassment
It is quite important to address the issue of sexual harassment at workplaces as this may result into a number of problems both for the employer and the employee. If continued in the organization, sexual harassment can land up the employer in a big trouble. Sexual harassment can be traumatic to an employer in terms of low productivity, absenteeism, staff turnover, retraining, litigation, damaged public image, investigations, financial strength, increased team conflict, decreased job satisfaction etc
Sexual harassment can do lot of damage to the harassed employee who may face emotional distress (e.g. fear, anxiety), loss of Self-esteem, embarrassment, anger, illness (e.g. ulcers, headaches, stress-related symptoms), exclusion from groups, loss of Income (e.g. Increased absenteeism), loss of job, disrupts career etc. Thus it is quite crucial for the organizations and the employers to recognize sexual harassment in the workplace which takes away from the woman her right to live and work with dignity.
Sexual harassment in Jammu and Kashmir
In Jammu and Kashmir, though not many cases of sexual harassment have been reported, yet a total of 1,326 rapes cases had been registered in the state since 2006. Jammu had registered 150 cases since 2006 and Srinagar 120 during the same period. However, only one person had been convicted of the crime so far during the last five years. Bulk of the rape cases are sub-judice or under investigation.
Crime against women has been on the rise in Jammu and Kashmir with 9634 cases involving rape, molestation, kidnapping and abduction of women and girls registered since 2010. As per the statistics given by the State Government in the Legislative Council in March 2013, 2763 cases were registered in 2010, 330 in 2011 and 3541 in 2012. Around 9634 cases were registered in various district of the state during 2010-12. These cases include rape, gang rape, kidnapping, molestation, eve teasing, dowry death, abetment to suicide, cruelty by husband and suppression of immoral trafficking.
Srinagar district tops the list with 1189 cases followed by 880 in Jammu and 835 in Anantnag. In Srinagar district 295 cases were registered in 2010, 422 in 2011 and 472 in 2012. Similarly, in Jammu 286 cases were registered in 2010, 276 in 2011 and 318 in 2012. Anantnag district was also high number of such cases as 275 cases were registered in 2010, 354 in 2011 and 306 in 2012. In 2010 around 243 rape cases were registered, while 1037 FIRs were lodged for molestation. Similarly, 850 cases of kidnapping and 262 cases of eve teasing were also lodged during 2013. A steep rise was witnessed in 2011 as around 273 cases of rape, 2 cases of gang rape, 1041 cases of kidnapping and 1194 cases of molestation were registered. The graph further witnessed rise in 2012 as 299 cases of rape, 2 cases of gang rape, 1059 cases of kidnapping, 1059 cases of molestation and 347 cases of eve-teasing were registered.
To curb incidents of eve-teasing and sexual harassment in and around government departments and public places in Jammu and Kashmir, the government has constituted a committee to deal with all cases of sexual harassment and eve teasing at the workplace and public places. An 18-member State Mission Authority for Empowerment of Women has also been constituted by the government to ensure among other things elimination of violence against women and promoting health and educational activities for their betterment.
Unfortunately, there is lack of vision to address the problem of violence faced by women in public spaces in its totality. As such, women do not come forward for reporting the incidents of sexual harassment due to social stigma, family pressure, police attitude, prolonged court trial, faulty law implementation and various corrupt practices, embarrassment and humiliation.
It is quite important for us to address the issue of sexual harassment as our society needs peaceful co-existence between genders and thus the recognition of sexual harassment as a legal wrong is an important step in securing human rights for women. In India, women’s presence in police stations is frowned upon and is considered a hostile environment for women to visit. Hence, the issue of access to the police stations vis-à-vis women is to be addressed. The political leadership of the state and the senior police officials has a constitutional duty to ensure that the entire police force is responsive to the needs of all the sections of the society, irrespective of their caste, creed, color or sex. Number of women police personnel in the police throughout the country is very low and there should be an increase in it.
One of the important measures in this regard can be the education, training and sensitization of more and more people, both men and women, about sexual harassment. Workshops and training programmes need to be organized to address the issue. The society needs to be sensitized with regard to women’s complainants. It also needs to be trained in public relations so that a better rapport can be established between police officials and complainants. Education and awareness can play a big role in preventing sexual harassment. Besides, it is also important to educate women who should resist sexual harassment at workplace and should not be silent sufferers to such incidents. Education can bring about lot of change among women who can develop self-confidence and mental strength to face the onslaught of adverse situations both by active and passive means.
(The author is working as Associate Professor,
University of Jammu)