SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT WORKPLACE: WOMEN ARE NOT ALWAYS THE INNOCENT VICTIMS

When it comes to sexual harassment at the workplace, women have become the target of a never ending string of vulgar remarks, direct and indirect harassment, accusations and often, it escalates to the level of inappropriate physical contact. After the Supreme Court came out with certain guidelines to protect women against sexual harassment at their workplace[1], followed by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act in 2013, the awareness of the issue increased substantially. Women felt more open and free to report incidents of sexual harassment, especially with the cells and committees opened particularly for the redressal for these issues. This led to a string of accusations that has led to the exposure of serious sexual harassment instances taking place at offices, MNCs, hospitals, law firms and government offices. However, this law, although made for the victims of sexual harassment, has somehow also become a tool for other women to use as a threat. Though, there are serious incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace, many that have gone unnoticed and unreported, there are several women who have either threatened their bosses or co-workers with this ‘pro-women’ legislation, with the confidence that the man’s side would be ignored and overshadowed by the ‘plight’ and ‘fear’ of a woman who pretends to have been a victim. It may be a disgruntled employee, an employee seeking a promotion or raise, a jealous or angry co-worker, but the instances of false FIRs and claims has increased to a ridiculous level where often, the plight of actual victims goes unheard due to the negativity developed by the fraudulent accusations. Delhi High Court expressed their concern over women at the workplace, taking advantage of the law and using it against their bosses and/or co-workers.

A similar situation was found in the dowry laws of India, where previously on the complaint of the woman, the husband and entire family would be thrown in jail without any investigation. Again, this legislation was made for the protection of women in India who suffered from abhorrent circumstances involving threats, verbal abuse, physical abuse and in certain circumstances murder, for dowry. However, instead of being used by the women who were actually victims of this crime, this legislation was used as a threat by women across the country, especially in the urban regions, as a threat by disgruntled wives against their in-laws. Finally, the Supreme Court made it clear that, unless there is a cases of a tangible injury or death, there will be no arrest until the charges have been verified.

Coming back to the Delhi Court judgement, the Court stated that ‘Of late, there is a growing trend of false FIRs being filed by women alleging rape and other sexual misdemeanors. She has scant disregard for the legal obligation to speak the truth in court.’. In this case, the woman had alleged sexual harassment by her boss as she was the only employee left in the company. The employer went on to refute the said charges, claiming that the woman was trying to extort him for money. During the depositions before the court, the woman claimed that she never lodged any complaint against the accuser and also denied giving any statement before the police and court. The court then decided to have her sign on a blank sheet of paper in order to draw a comparison with the earlier statements which contained her signature. However, the court found that when she signed on the blank sheet of paper she deliberately made her sign on ‘shaky writing’ in order to deceive the court. The court called this a disregard to the legal process and that it cannot shut its eyes to the reality of false FIRs.

False and fraudulent cases like these not only cause a waste of resources and time but has a greater implication of causes unnecessary speculation, doubt and skepticism on the actual cases of sexual harassment. Women who use the law as a threat in order to gain favors and benefits from their workplace cause extreme negativity, skepticism, and mistrust for women who actual go through sexual harassment at their own workplace.

[1] Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan AIR 1997 SC 3011

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