This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Ungender Legal Advisory. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Revisiting A ‘False’ Sexual Harassment Complaint: The Anita Suresh Case

More from Ungender Legal Advisory

Written by: Suruchi Kumar

Editor’s Note: In this article, the author takes you through the facts of the recent Anita Suresh case followed by the key takeaways from the Delhi HC Division Bench. 

X v. Union Of India And Ors. (aka Anita Suresh case)

Bench: High Court of Delhi
Decision dated: December 17, 2020

Representational image.

Facts Of The Case

The petitioner was working, at the time of the complaint as an Assistant Director (Fin.) with the ESI Hospital at Manesar, Gurgaon, and respondent No. 3/ O.P. Verma at that time was posted as Deputy Director in the same hospital.

The appellant had complained that she was repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment by the respondent where he was using inappropriate language with sexual overtones. The complaint was filed on 08.07.2011 regarding certain incidents of 07.07.2011.

However, the complainant could not provide a clear statement on the language used by the respondent and her complaint could not be corroborated by the witnesses. Nevertheless, the IC gave the complainant benefit of the doubt and in order to maintain harmony at the organisation transferred both the respondent and the complainant to another branch.

Aggrieved with such a transfer order, the complainant filed an appeal and thereafter a petition at the High Court of Delhi. In a turn of events, the Single Judge of Delhi High Court on the basis of lack of sufficient corroboration and basis the previous service records of the complainant held that the complaint filed by X was false and frivolous.

It held that “it is not believable that the petitioner would not remember the names of any colleague/staff member. The Committee examined all the persons who were on duty on that day, but no persons supported the allegations of the petitioner. The petitioner has not mentioned the alleged comments of respondent No. 3 in the complaint on the ground of modesty. The petitioner did not even disclose the alleged comments before the Committee. No reason or justification was been given by the petitioner for not disclosing the same before the Committee. The entire complaint of the petitioner appears to be false and has been filed with some ulterior motive.”

The Court dismissed her writ petition and also imposed exemplary costs of INR 50,000 upon her while granting liberty to the ESI to initiate appropriate action against her for filing a false complaint against the respondent No. 3/O.P. Verma.

Aggrieved with this order, the Petitioner filed an appeal before the Division Bench of High Court.

The Judgment

Typically, the evidence and records of inquiry proceedings are not checked by the courts at this stage. However, being a matter of dignity of a woman complainant, the Division Bench went through the records and found the Complaints Committee report conclusive enough that the incident of harassment had taken place but the words of the respondent could not be sufficiently corroborated by the witnesses.

In this case, the Complaints Committee was right to give the benefit of the doubt to the complainant but wrong to recommend her transfer. It was wrong of the Single Judge to hold the complaint to be false when the respondent himself conceded that the words were spoken but the intention was misunderstood. It was also wrong of the Single Judge to take into account past service records of the complainant and make it a case of a false complaint.

Therefore, the Division Bench allowed the appeal and set aside the order of the Single Bench levying costs of INR 50,000 and directing ESI to take action against the complainant.

Representational image.

Commandments Of The High Court

• While setting aside the decision of Single Judge, the Division Bench reiterated basic principles of the PoSH Act and laid emphasis on certain aspects to be kept in mind while dealing with complaints of sexual harassment:

• Sexual harassment is a serious issue that needs to be addressed at all workplaces urgently and sensitively. Women are entitled to a congenial and dignified working environment to live their lives fully and attain their full potentiality. Every institution and organization must declare zero tolerance for gender insensitivity. The statute to protect women from sexual harassment at the workplace – the law must be complied with in letter and spirit;

• Gender conditioning where the man develops a superiority complex, while the woman doubts her own capacity, starts very early in life. It is impossible not to notice around us, how easily the “common woman” is put down by the “common man”. Less said the better of what happens to the Third Gender.

• Most instances of sexual harassment happen behind closed doors. The role of the IC here is not to doubt the veracity of the complaint or view the complainant with suspicion. It is to believe her and not compel her to name witnesses to seek corroboration. The absence of eyewitnesses to the incident cannot detract from the credibility of the complainant as her statement is to be considered independently to determine whether it has a ring of truth or not.

• An Internal Committee has so many members, including an outsider, to enable a joint application of minds to evaluate the statement made by a complainant and assess its credibility.

• A high standard of proof required in criminal trials is not called for during an inquiry by the Internal Complaints Committee under the Act;

• It is also a safeguard for men, as false complaints are very much possible (though not in this case) and for which the Act has also made clear provisions, including to punish such a complainant for false and malicious complaints and false evidence;

• Standard of proof in an inquiry by the Internal Complaints Committee is as for a domestic inquiry. Under the Act, the Report of the Internal Complaints Committee can be taken by the employer for disciplinary action against the delinquent official. The mere inability of a woman to name such witnesses cannot suffice to falsify her complaint;

• Upon conclusion of the inquiry by the Internal Complaints Committee, there must be some sensitivity shown by it while recommending action, keeping in mind the dignity of the complainant. The transfer of the complainant should be only if she seeks it or when she has been found to have filed a false complaint. The ripple effect of such action could be that other suffering women, would hesitate to file complaints, fearing a transfer.

• It’s imperative to have a strong redressal system in the organization as that would also protect the male workforce and officials from ingenuine complaints and also give them the opportunity to explain their conduct and action before a more restricted and confidential forum; and

• To this end, all activities as reproduced hereinabove and prescribed under the Act and Rules must be strictly performed by all organizations. Greater understanding leads to greater mutual regard and respect and greater harmony leads to greater efficiency and productivity, ensuring the benefit of all.

About the author: Suruchi Kumar is the Head of Legal Services at Ungender, Advocate at the Supreme Court and a Labour Laws expert.

Images have been used for representation only. Credit: ILO Asia Pacific/Flickr
You must be to comment.

More from Ungender Legal Advisory

Similar Posts

By Anjali joseph

By Ria Gupta

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below