Sexual Harassment at the Workplace: Laws to have Jaws

Posted on June 30, 2010 in Society

Tania Goklany:

Cases of sexual harassment at the workplace and toxic industrial waste endangering human lives are handled with a totally different level of seriousness in countries like America in comparison to ours. The Indian Government has been very lethargic in dealing with such cases. Often there comes a particular time in say ten years when the executive, legislature or the judiciary feels the need for some positive action to be taken towards real progress of the country.

Like for example in the present our Capital city Delhi is thriving to adjust to the massive changes taking place every day in order to welcome world audience to the Commonwealth Games that is taking place at the end of this year. Now, I am told that in developed countries when development takes place on such a big scale people do not even come to know of it, they are not allowed anywhere near it. This shows the value of human life in a developed country and a developing one like ours.

I can find another example in the famous Vishaka judgment. In this case our judiciary went outside its boundaries to protect the rights of women at the workplace and to save them from any sort of harassment. The Vishaka case heavily drew upon international law, noticing the absence of domestic laws in this field. This is something known as judicial activism where the judges go beyond their traditional roles. The doctrine of ‘separation of powers’ can be questioned by such activism.

It has been one of the landmark judgments where the judge declared that our country will follow the provisions of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of discrimination against women) as adopted by the UN in 1979. But until this date no legislation has been passed which can replace this charter and to formulate a law that would be more suitable to Indian circumstances.

The Working Women (Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace) Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2006. But since the judgment not much has been done about this serious issue. Our Government has gone into a deep slumber and refuses to wake up. Our Government has made many promises and commitments at the international fora but these promises have not been kept back home.

There should be greater public awareness and people should have a greater participatory role in governance. That’s what democracy is all about. Talking about democracy, even we as citizens should exercise the power of Public Interest Litigation provided to us by courts through judicial activism. Not only can the affected or injured parties file a case, even other commoners who support them and feel the righteous need of justice to be delivered in favour of the affected, can file a case. Similarly, in cases of sexual harassment, NGOs can come forward and help the victims and demand for justice. People should be made more aware of their rights, cleaner politics should be encouraged, the need for speedy justice to be delivered should be emphasized on etc.

One thing our Government needs to realize is that women can play an important role in the development of our country and one of the ways to make sure that they are encouraged to contribute their time and effort for the same is to make sure that they are provided with a safe working environment. Thus, a proper legislation protecting their rights in the workplace is the need of the hour.