“Every institution and organization must declare zero tolerance for Gender insensitivity. Now that there is a statute to protect women from sexual harassment at work place the law must be complied in letter and spirit.
“Sexual harassment is a serious issue that needs to be addressed at all work places urgently and sensitively. Women are valuable human resource. Their contribution in all spheres of life can never be belittled, whether at the home and hearth or away from it, in more impersonal office spaces. In either sphere, they are entitled to a congenial and dignified environment to live their life fully and attain their full potentiality,” a bench of Justices Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Asha Menon observed.
The bench further observed that gender conditioning where a man develops a superiority complex, while the woman doubts her own capacity, starts very early in life.
“It need not be in the form of a tutorial, but certainly as subtle data to the minds of young children, about their privileges or lack of it. The privileges also come in the opportunities to develop personality, confidence, intelligence and skills. It is impossible not to notice all 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,” it said.
The court further said that this gender conditioning leads men to abuse, ill-treat or become violent towards women and third genders or treat them disparagingly and with condescension.
The observations came while allowing the appeal of a woman against a single judge order imposing Rs 50,000 cost on her and directing initiation of appropriate action against her for filing a false sexual harassment complaint against a senior colleague.
The single judge was of the view that the complaint was false as she was unable to produce any witnesses in support of her complaint and did not even disclose to the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) the inappropriate comments made by the alleged harasser.
While setting aside the single judge’s order, the bench said the statements made before the complaints committee and placed on the electronic file “clearly establish that the respondent (man) had been misbehaving with the appellant (complainant) by making statements with sexual overtones”.
The bench also laid down some guidelines to be followed by an ICC at the time of dealing with sexual harassment complaints, saying there appeared to be complete lack of information with women about the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
The court said that firstly an organization has to set out the details and information about the Act at prominent places so that any woman who requires help can easily approach the concerned person to submit her complaint and/or appeal.
“Secondly, it cannot be overlooked that the ICC is intended as a platform to provide an environment of confidence to the complainant. It 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, as has happened in the instant case,” the bench said.
It further said that ICCs have to be set up in every workplace and every woman employee has to be informed as to the person she can contact in the committee when faced with any unsavoury or unacceptable conduct by a male colleague.
“Thirdly, the standard of proof, so to speak, in an inquiry by the ICC 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. Nevertheless, the high standard of proof required in criminal trials is not called for during an inquiry by the ICC under the Act. Therefore, there can be no insistence on production of witnesses by the complainant to corroborate her statement,” the bench said.
It further said that upon conclusion of the inquiry by the ICC, some sensitivity has to be shown by it while recommending action, keeping in mind the dignity of the complainant
It said that a complainant should be transferred only if she seeks it or if she has filed a false complaint.
Otherwise it would amount to adding insult to injury if a wronged woman is transferred for making a genuine complaint.
“The ripple effect of such action could be that other suffering women would hesitate to file complaints, fearing a transfer from the existing office, department or organization, which they may not prefer, for various reasons,” the bench said.
The court said it was imperative to have a strong redressal system in the organization as that would also protect the male workforce and officials from vexatious complaints and also give them the opportunity to explain their conduct and action before a more restricted and confidential forum.