At a time when the Sexual Harassment Workplace Bill is in focus and is soon likely to be made into a law, I have a very important point to raise, that deserves to be published and read by all readers. In its current format, the Bill is heavily skewed towards women's interests, completely disregarding the fact that even men are increasingly being subjected to sexual harassment at their work place or are being wrongly accused of indulging in such an act out of sheer malice.
This write-up calls for Gender Neutral Laws in this case, to ensure that people with malicious intent do not misuse the laws in their current format to suit their ulterior motives.
In India, reams of newsprint have gone into championing the cause of women empowerment and demanding equal rights and opportunities for women, who have borne the brunt of male oppression for centuries. Stringent laws and punishments have been meted out to safeguard the interests and prevent harassment, abuse and torture against oppressed women. But, these same laws can and have been misused by cunning, conniving women to serve their ulterior motives in their bid to climb up the corporate ladder.
Our laws completely disregard the fact that in the urban areas, women today, are on an equal footing with women in their professional lives. There are plenty of instances that go unreported, where educated and scheming working women misuse the loopholes in our laws, like the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill (SHWB) to get back at their male counterparts.
The provisions in this Bill must be made gender neutral and any fake accusations and allegations, once proved, must be dealt with severe punishment.
The Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill and The Supreme Court's Vishakha Guidelines on Sexual Harassment are irrelevant and not applicable to the times we are living in.
This bill and the guidelines were framed in the 90's. The times have changed significantly, especially for women in metros. Today, women are a very active part of the workforce in India's corporate world. And in most metropolitan cities in India, women are progressing in tandem with their male colleagues.
Given this situation, the fact that we continue to refer and abide by obsolete laws points to a serious deep crisis in the work place governance for leaders in any company within India. It has become difficult to combat manipulative women who use these outdated and prejudiced laws in our legal system to seek revenge and ruin the career of unsuspecting senior male executives who are threatened and forced to succumb to their demands.
The government has, for decades, ignored the good recommendations and proposals from the Supreme Court or the Law Commission owing to the pressure exerted on them by feminist groups and NGOs. Does the government even realize that the Sexual Harassment Workplace Bill (SHWB) can actually become like a fully-loaded revolver in the hands of any working woman who wants to settle scores because the law gives her the chance to hold a man to ransom by just a simple accusation of sexual harassment.
RTIs reveal that during the drafting of the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, there were innumerable representations from the public seeking to make the bill gender neutral. Our Constitution does not mention anywhere that special provisions for women will be achieved at the cost of deliberate discrimination against men on grounds of gender, which is the essence of the Main Article 15 of the Constitution. And yet, the SHWB precisely flouts this very essence.
Instead of appointing people who have demonstrated a track record of high integrity and sound judicial approach, the bill rather intends to appoint people who “shall be committed to the cause of women”.
The use of the phrase ‘committed to the cause of women, in fact, finds mention in several places in the draft bill and its connotation only suggests that this will lead to not only inherent bias and prejudice against men in general, but will also result in frequently overlooking the merits of the case in order to provide some sort of reward to the woman.
In section 12(1), the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill states that if a complaint is found to be false, the committee “may recommend to the employer or the District Officer to take action against the woman or the person who has made the complaint”. In other words, the punishment for making a false Sexual Harassment in not mandatory, but discretionary, and would depend on the recommendation of members of such an NGO whose sole selection to the committee was dependent on their level of being “committed to the cause of women”.
This will lead to misusers walking scot-free in most cases and if at all, punishment is recommended, it will be nothing more than a rap on the wrist.
The Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill in its present form and demand that the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill must be amended so that it does not violate Article 15 of the Indian Constitution and wrongly interpret Article 15(3).
We demand that:
a) The Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill must be reviewed and amended immediately to make it Gender Neutral.
b) Severe punishment must be given to those who are responsible for ignoring the overwhelming public response and openly discriminating men and violating Article 15 of the Constitution of India, which prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion and sex as well as wrongly interpreting Article 15(3) of the Constitution, by exempting women from punishment for sexual harassment.
c) The mandatory inclusion of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) as a watchdog group in every gender law-making committee so that men are not deliberately discriminated against, Article 15 of the Constitution is not violated again, Article 15 (3) is not wrongly interpreted and that the people's opinions are not brutally trampled upon.
d) The mandatory inclusion of corporate bodies like FICCI , CII , ASSOCHAM and a corporate committee comprising an equal number of male and female members from the industry so that interests of both genders are kept in mind while drafting laws to truly achieve a equal opportunity workplace.
e) Involving external NGO based on legal knowledge and their background of delivering justice on merits and not merely being women's rights champions.
f) Allowing the reporting of all cases, true or false accusations, in the media so that the magnitude of use or misuse can be measured.
g) Any fake accusations and allegations, once proved, must be dealt with the severe punishment as the amount of disrespect and defamation it would have by then caused to the working man is immeasurable.
h) Provision of any sort of settlement must be removed.