ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Crime by Another Name

The casual acceptance of sexual harassment at the workplace must end.

The silence surrounding an everyday crime appears finally to be breaking. Beginning with the complaint by a law intern against a retired Supreme Court (SC) judge earlier this month and the most recent complaint by a woman journalist against her editor, many other women are now speaking up about sexual harassment at the workplace. Yet the few that have been reported represent but a sliver of the totality, one that millions of working women of all classes confront and negotiate almost on a daily basis.

Despite the SC passing the Vishaka guidelines in 1997, which laid down clear definitions of what constituted sexual harassment as well as the redressal system that had to be put in place within all institutions, this is a crime that remains largely unaddressed. That it is a crime requires no discussion. When women are compelled to tolerate sexual innuendoes, unwanted attention and physical contact, and even sexual assault in some instances, and all this in a place where they are hired for their professional skills, it is a form of sexual violence. It assaults not just their physical being but also their sense of self. Given unequal power equations, generally women cannot, and indeed do not, speak up when such harassment occurs. When they do, there is no redressal mechanism. As a result, it becomes their word against the perpetrator of the crime. The record shows that it is women who lose, either because there is no way to establish the crime as there are no witnesses or because the process of proving it becomes so traumatic that they are compelled to withdraw the complaint or leave the organisation.

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