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Sexual harassment at workplace: Acquittal of Priya Ramani

  • IASbaba
  • February 22, 2021
  • 0
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WOMEN/ GOVERNANCE

Topic:

  • GS-2: Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections. 
  • GS-2:  Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation

Sexual harassment at workplace: Acquittal of Priya Ramani

Brief Background of the issue:

  • In October 2018, journalist Priya Ramani shared her story on social media about being sexually harassed in 1993 by BJP leader and minister M.J. Akbar, back in the day when he was editor of Asian Age
  • Subsequently, nearly 20 other women also shared accounts of sexual harassment at Akbar’s hands and supported the claim made by her.
  • Following Priya Ramani’s charges, MJ Akbar filed a criminal defamation complaint against her in Delhi Court denying all the charges. Under pressure, MJ Akbar resigned in 2018.
  • In Feb 2021, the Court accepted the defence presented by Ramani and acquitted her of the charge of criminal defamation under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code. 
  • The Court observed that the accused had spoken the ‘truth in furtherance of public interest’ which is an exception to criminal defamation under Section 499, IPC.

Issues

  • Disbelief and Fear of Job Loss: Women speaking up against sexual harassment are often disbelieved. Calling out their boss as a perpetrator means an instant loss of job and pay.
  • Institutional Failure: Sexual harassment is a problem of institutions rather than of individuals alone. Institutional mechanisms have systemically failed to protect women or provide justice.
  • Tool of Patriarchy: The world over, employers deploy sexual harassment as a means to discipline and control women workers.
  • Poor Implementation: For factory workers, domestic workers, street vendors, sanitation and waste workers, construction workers, sex workers, labour laws or laws against sexual harassment exist only on paper. 
  • Failure to Unionise: Women who spoke were unanimous that individual complaints were not an option: They needed unions to fight collectively. The Labour Codes passed by the central government make it all but impossible for workers to unionise. 

The SC Verdict

  • Time not a constraint in Right to Speak: The verdict urged society to “understand that sometimes a victim may for years not speak up due to mental trauma,” and underlined that a woman has a right to speak up about the abuse, even after decades.
  • Private Matter and issue of evidence: It pointed out that since sexual harassment typically takes place in private, women’s testimonies cannot be dismissed as untrue or defamatory simply because they are unable to provide other witnesses to back their allegations.
  • Social Media: Survivors are justified in sharing their testimonies on media or social media platforms as a form of self-defence.
  • Against Fundamental Rights: Sexual abuse violates the constitutionally recognised rights to dignity (Article 21) and equality (Articles 14 and 15), and that (a man’s) right to reputation cannot be protected at the cost of (a woman’s) right to dignity.

Connecting the dots:

  • The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013.
  • Disha Act of Andhra Pradesh: Click here
  • Don’t you think acts of sexual violence are deeply traumatic for survivors, and that it takes great courage and faith in the system to report them?

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