MeToo Movement, Visakha Guidelines, Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 and Justice Verma Committee Recommendations
The Centre recently announced its plan to set up a panel of judges to look into the legal and institutional framework to curb sexual harassment at workplaces following the #MeToo campaign on social media.
In 2013, the Justice J.S. Verma Committee, in its landmark report on gender laws, had recommended setting up of an employment tribunal instead of an internal complaints committee (ICC) in sweeping changes to the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill.
The Committee, chaired by Justice Verma termed the Sexual Harassment Bill “unsatisfactory”. It further said that the bill did not reflect the spirit of the Visakha guidelines framed by the Supreme Court in 1997.
What is the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013?
This Act seeks to protect women from sexual harassment at their place of work.
Some salient points of the Act
- Every employer is required to constitute an Internal Complaints committee at each office or branch with 10 or more employees.
- The District Officer is required to constitute a Local Complaints Committee at each district and if required at the block level.
- The Complaints Committees have the powers of civil courts for gathering the evidence.
- The committee is required to complete the inquiry within a time period of 90 days.
- The inquiry process under the Act should be confidential and it also lays down a penalty of Rs 5000 who breaches confidentiality.
What are Justice Verma Committee recommendations?
In 2013, Justice Verma committee was appointed to review laws for sexual crimes.
Some salient recommendations:
- Punishment for rape should be rigorous imprisonment or Rigorous Imprisonment for seven years to life.
- Every complaint of rape must be registered by the police and civil society should perform its duty to report any case of rape coming to its knowledge. Any officer, who fails to register a case of rape reported to him, or attempts to abort its investigation, commits an offence which shall be punishable as prescribed,
- As a primary recommendation, all marriages in India should mandatorily be registered in the presence of a magistrate,
- A separate Bill of Rights for women that entitles a woman a life of dignity and security and will ensure that a woman shall have the right to have complete sexual autonomy including with respect to her relationships.
- The judiciary has the primary responsibility of enforcing fundamental rights, through constitutional remedies. The judiciary can take suo motu cognizance of such issues being deeply concerned with them both in the Supreme Court and the High Court. An all India strategy to deal with this issue would be advisable.
What are Visakha Guidelines?
Honourable Supreme Court in 1997 Visakha vs State of Rajasthan provided the first authoritative decision of “sexual harassment” in the country. It confronted a statutory vacuum and proposed the route of “judicial legislation”.
In this, the court laid down the requirements for employers dealing with the complaints of sexual harassment and also stipulated the formation of committees to dispose of complaints from the victims of harassment which were being called as “Visakha Guidelines”.
Definition of sexual harassment:- Anything at work that can place the working woman at disadvantage compared to other make employees in her official career just because she is a woman can be termed as sexual harassment.
Any unwelcome sexually determined behaviour & demands from males employees at the workplace like physical contact with women, showing pornography etc comes under this.
Some Salient points:
- Gender equality includes protection from sexual harassment and the right to work with dignity as per the constitution.
- Safe working environment and working with full dignity is the fundamental right of working women.
- The right to work is an inalienable right of all working women.
- The supreme court also recommended a Complaints Committee at all the workplaces headed by a woman employee with not less than half of its members being women.
Prepared By: Sai Eswar