Why the cases of sexual harassment go unreported in India?

by Rashmi Singh

With the rising number of working women, there is a rise in the cases of sexual harassment at workplace. A study reveals that as much as 79% of working women endure sexual harassment at work place mostly in the form of verbal harassment.  Still, maximum cases go unreported and there are many reasons behind it. Foremost reason is the lack of awareness among women employees about what gets covered under the definition of sexual harassment. In many countries like UK and US, Sexual harassment is identified as violence against women and there are legislative measures in place to combat. In India, also, a bill was passed in 2010 “The protection of women against sexual harassment at work place bill, 2010”. Preceding to that in 1997, the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in Vishaka vs State of Rajasthan, AIR 1997 SC 3011 (known as Vishaka guidelines) recognized sexual harassment at work place as violation of human rights and defined sexual harassment as  any unwelcome sexually determined behavior whether directly or implied as:

  1. Physical contact and advances
  2. A demand or request for sexual favor
  3. Sexually colored remarks
  4. Showing pornography
  5. Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

In general, physical harassment can also be considered under sexual harassment depending on circumstances but even verbal comments playing with dignity and self-respect of women can come under sexual harassment. So working women should be made aware through campaigns about every aspect of behavior which can be termed as sexual harassment legally. I, myself, working women in my male dominated office, have endured verbal abuse of my boss for a long time as myself was not aware that his behavior comes under sexual harassment.
The other reason for ignoring such type of behavior at workplace by working women is due to “fear of discrimination at workplace by their colleagues or superiors”. In general, still our workplaces in India are male dominated and woman employee who complains, is considered unwelcome by the company & management. Initially everyone tries to play down her complain by finding mistakes in her behavior or work. So raising a complaint further alienates her and so will need to fight this harassment alone. You can equate this attitude with earlier attitude of society that if a woman gets molested or raped, she is a stigma, and quite unfortunate (without least fault of hers). The same attitude is still prevalent in male dominated offices towards sexual harassment. Whenever a woman is subjected to violence or harassment of any kind whether physical or verbal, it takes herself some time to recognize that it is not her fault. The system and values of our society are such that even for the heinous crimes of rape and molestation, mostly women are considered responsible. So these women harassment issues are degraded by superior race "men", just because women in India is still an inferior and a weaker race than the males. This attitude is prevalent world over and more so in our country and so much imbibed in society and puts men in advantageous situation.

Oprah Winfrey herself accepted that when she was sexually abused in her childhood for almost 5 years, she felt herself only responsible. Her perception was that she had committed something wrong and she had no one but herself to blame. It took her whooping 37 years to realize that it was not her fault. This happens with maximum women who endure harassment.

Although the code of conduct rules stipulated by government of India clearly states that all employees or persons in charge of work place whether in the public or private sector should take appropriate steps to prevent sexual harassment.

The third and equally important reason is lack of confidence in complaint mechanism. Mostly in offices, the complaint mechanism is weak and there also, the attitudes of society towards these incidents play their role. In most of times women are blamed and if the perpetrator is influential or an important person, management tries to take favor of the culprit only. In my organization a woman employee had complained of sexual harassment against a senior person. In retaliation she was transferred to some other department freeing the culprit of any charges. When she approached the management and asked why she was being punished instead of the harasser, she was tersely told by the management that "we know who is important for management". In short, women try to avoid lodging a formal complaint due to many obstacles and amount of mental harassment associated with it. 

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Agreed. Completely. The

Agreed. Completely. The victim blaming has to stop. The fault is with the criminals, not the victims. Because of all this blame from everyone (for her behavior, for her clothes, for her 'lack of common sense' in realizing the man was dangerous - because every man who harasses or rapes/molests has a big sign on his forehead proclaiming as such! - women are reluctant to come forward and report or even react to harassment in the workplace or anywhere else.

I quoted this article in my own blog post on the subject (bit.ly/LBE9FR), I hope you don't mind.

I'd filed a complaint and the

I'd filed a complaint and the Judge said that it seemed I did not suffer any trauma or injury, whereas the company executives and the accused are justified in being "angry" with me for dragging them into a sexual harassment case. I gave so many instances of harassment and so did another woman colleague. The Judge also said that I have made this complaint only when they terminated my employment, although I have said it several times during my employment. Is there any case law you can suggest so that I can use it in my appeal?

If you can prove that you

If you can prove that you indeed suffered sexual harassment then filing complaint even after termination will not affect your case.

Our society discourages women

I'm a right activist and I feel women in India don't want to come forward because of stigma that'll attach to them. If they are not married, it'd spoil their future.

If you're married, most likely your husband will not cooperate you and in 99% of cases create very bad impression on the inlaws and neighbours.

Companies will not like to recruit those who have ever made complaints against their sexual harassment at the work place.

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