The brutal murder of the 19-year-old woman who worked as receptionist at a resort in Rishikesh has shaken the collective conscience of our nation. The woman was murdered by her employer after she resisted his attempts to push her into prostitution. The public outrage against the accused and the demand for a fast-track trial in the matter are all very much justified, however, a question must be asked is whether the unfortunate incident was preventable? It is known that the victim had confided in her friend about the ill-intentions of her employer. However, she could not approach the authorities with a formal complaint. Only if there was a robust mechanism in place to report such harassments, a murder could have been prevented, and the perpetrators would have been behind bars before the thought of such dastardly crime could have crossed their mind.
It is pertinent to note that the legal provisions to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and for the redressal of complaints of sexual harassment already exist. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was enacted and enforced in 2013 to secure for all women a right to work with dignity. The Act enjoins the employers to provide a safe working environment at the workplace for all women. It requires that every employer shall, mandatorily, constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (“ICC”). The ICC shall consist of the following members to be nominated by the employer, namely: —
(a) a Presiding Officer who shall be a woman employed at a senior level at workplace from amongst the employees;
(b) not less than two Members from amongst employees preferably committed to the cause of women or who have had experience in social work or have legal knowledge;
(c) one member from amongst non-governmental organisations or associations committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issues relating to sexual harassment;
Provided that at least one-half of the total Members so nominated shall be women.
Any aggrieved woman can make a complaint of sexual harassment at workplace to the ICC. If any employer fails to constitute an ICC, he shall, at the first instance, be punishable with fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees. If the employer is subsequently convicted of the same offence, he shall not only be liable to twice the punishment which might have been imposed on a first conviction but also can face cancellation of his licence or registration required for carrying on his business or activity.
While the legal provisions are in place, several employers are finding themselves on the wrong side of the law, either due to lack of awareness or resolve. As is seen in umpteen number of cases, several organisations/ undertakings/ establishments do not have a functioning Internal Complaints Committee. There have been demands, and rightly so, to raise the punishment and penalty on the employers for their failure to constitute an ICC. The law entrusts the responsibility of providing a safe working environment to women on the employers. The law also requires the employers to organize workshops and awareness programmes at regular intervals for sensitizing the employees with the provisions of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. In the face of such explicit duties placed upon by the legislature, ignorance of law can be no excuse for the employers.
It is a disconcerting reality that our country is unable to fully utilize the potential of its demographic dividend to achieve higher rates of growth. According to the World Bank, India has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world. The female labour participation rate in India was barely at 19% in 2020 which was even lower than Bangladesh (35%) and Sri Lanka (31%). To tackle this issue, it is high time that the existing policies on providing a safe working environment to women are made more stringent and enforced effectively. Sexual harassment at workplace is an affront to the fundamental rights and dignity of women. The legislative reforms must necessitate a safe workplace environment for all women.Trending Courses:
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