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Home > News > Report

'Sexual harassment rampant, unreported,' says study

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | September 18, 2004 20:24 IST

"Sexual harassment of women is rampant in India and most of it is unreported. It is high time the government passes a special legislation for it and for the redressal of sexually harassed women," wrote well-known lawyer and activist Indira Jaising in a manual on laws relating to sexual harassment at the workplace.


The book, which is funded by Oxfam and published by Universal Law, is the fruit of a yearlong effort of the Lawyer's Collective women's right's initiative and is edited by Jaising.


While releasing the book, the first of its kind, in New Delhi, Congress party spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan said, "Women's reservation bill or a bill to prevent sexual harassment at workplaces are not matter of bargain but are women's rights."


Jaising said the Rupen Deol Bajaj case had inspired her to understand sexual harassment in detail. Rupen Deol Bajaj had charged K P S Gill, former Punjab police chief, of sexual harassment. Jaising, who pleaded Bajaj's case, said that for most Indians, Bajaj's honour was less important than the services of Gill, who was described as the "distinguished son of India."


Natarajan said that even as a Rajya Sabha member, civil aviation minister, and minister for parliamentary affairs, she has faced verbal harassment and lewd remarks from men. She recalled how, once, when she was arguing with an opposition leader who is a governor now, he lost his cool and told her, 'Oh, I know how woman like you get elected and get power.'


Natarajan said she was shocked to hear the remarks. Later, the opposition leader apologised by merely saying that he didn't mean it, but the remark left a terrible scar on her. "If it can happen to a lawyer like me than imagine what will be the plight of the crores of underprivileged women of India?" she asked.


She further said that in India there are many myths about women and issues related to sexual harassment. For instance, surveys have shown time and again that women are not harassed because of the way they dress. In most cases, the victims were found "decently dressed."


Then, men allege that women make the allegations of sexual harassment out of spite. This is also not true because in most cases, it has been found that women are scared to go public about the harassment.


A third myth is that the women were "asking for it." Many men and women too believe that women can prevent sexual harassment if they want to. But she pointed out that studies have shown that is not true.


Another myth is that men who pass lewd or sexually coloured remarks or demand sexual favours are sick or mentally ill. This is again a myth; in most cases normal guys and those considered healthy have been involved.


A fifth myth is that women are sexually harassed more in the dark or at odd hours. Again, studies have negated this claim.


"Sexual harassment by men of women is nothing but their expression of power rooted in their belief of sexual inequality," insisted Natarajan.


K Chandramauli, joint secretary in the Ministry of Labour, said that in all central and state government offices, complaint committees have been formed to deal with sexual harassment cases. But he pointed out that 92 per cent of India's workforce is in the unorganised sector and which employs over 12 crores women, who have little protection against sexual harassment at the workplace.


Former Chief Justice of India J S Verma, in his keynote address, said social sanction against sexual harassment would be far more helpful than legal sanctions. "Each one of us will have to start the learning process of honouring women from our home," he said.


He pointed out that it was the most affluent states of India that had the most skewed sex ratios with fewer females per 1000 males.


He said when he was acting governor of Rajasthan, he came across a startling fact: an area in Bharatpur district had not recorded the birth of a girl for the last 50 years! And in another area, when a woman got married, it became big news because it implied that "she had been permitted to be born and live, and was now getting married."


While explaining that respect for woman has to be part of one's culture, he said, "I know a case of an elderly man who, when his grandchild was born and was asked, 'Is it a girl or a boy?' he became furious and replied, 'A child is always grand.'


Justice Verma pointed out that mere laws could not stop sexual harassment and reminded the audience that despite a plethora of laws against sati, it still occurred.


Recounting the infamous Roop Kanwar sati incident (in 1987), he recalled, "Believe me, as chief justice of the Rajasthan high court, I had great difficulty in getting senior judges to hear the case of Roop Kanwar." He said a senior judge came to him almost in tears; his mother was upset with him for hearing the Roop Kanwar case.


Justice Varma said that last year, when a judge of the Delhi high court was being prosecuted for taking bribes, his lawyer had argued that favours in the form of "wine and women" could not be termed as bribes.


"My blood boils to hear such arguments. If this is the attitude of a lawyer or a judge, any act against sexual harassment will not help," he warned.


Justice Verma and Indira Jaising both admitted that that sexual harassment does occur in the judiciary and the courtrooms of India.


"Since we want to see many more women in the work place, it is important to take up this issue seriously and urgently," concluded Jaising.



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Number of User Comments: 36

Sub: Comments

I am a little tired hearing of reforms and legislation and I wonder how far they will go in bringing about any change.Be it skewed ...

Posted by Payal chatterjee

Sub: Sexual Harrassment in the Indian context

I feel the following measures would reduce the incidents of sxual harrassment in India : 1. The media has to have debates and panels discussing ...

Posted by Dilip R Chaudhuri

Sub: We have the defense mechanism!

Such creepy atmosphere present here in India can give many young woman and mothers a shiver down the spine,but think again,is there really no law ...

Posted by Saima Azmi

Sub: womens are not always innocents/women can also harasse man with fake elligation

women are not always innocent .in fect they are taking benefit from the law becoz law is always in their favour.some women organization blindly beleive ...

Posted by raj

Sub: Women are their own enemies 04919

Sir, Status of Woman in Christianity and Islam 14. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may ...

Posted by Apt



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