Sexual Harassment Laws In India Full Of Loopholes

Posted on December 30, 2010 in Society

By Moon Garg:

Sexual harassment can take place anywhere and has several forms and outcomes. It can take place at public places where it takes the form of eve teasing, molestation. At workplaces sexual harassment has come to be seen, and rightly so, as a a serious offence. There is however no distinction in the nature of these acts nor specific laws pertaining to them. Eve teasing according to Wikipedia is a euphemism for sexual harassment or molestation.

Molestation is the sexual exploitation of a child or a woman by an adult for sexual gratification or for profit. Sexual harassment is intimidation, bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. In India there are not many laws regarding the same. Those found guilty can be punished under section 294 and sec 509 of IPC. Recently, in 2006, Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2006 has been passed.

These provisions of IPC are beset with flaws since they contain a number of ambiguous words. As in case of Section 294, the act or utterance must be made in public places which mean sexual harassment which takes place behind closed doors as in the case of homes, shops, telephones, etc. will not be considered as sexual harassment under this section. Also the act or utterance must cause annoyance but the provision doesn’t suggest any means of measuring the same. Similarly Section 509 of IPC is applicable when there is an intention to outrage the modesty of any woman which again is impossible to prove since intention is difficult to prove.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill 2006 defines sexual harassment as any unwelcome act, gesture, remark or any other behavior to outrage the modesty of women at workplace. However what is to be understood is the distinction between welcome and unwelcome. If the act is not unwelcome then the “offender” is not an offender. An act may be proved welcome by the offender by citing reasons such as provoking on account of attire, expressions, gestures etc. by the victim, which may not be the case. Similarly the definition contains the word physical contact which is unclear in its meaning.

The provisions contain several loopholes which can be exploited easily by the harasser in his favor. Clearly the provisions and laws need to be more comprehensive to provide a means of justice to those who have been victims and a means of protection for those who could be potential victims.