MeToo - Keep the purity of movement and behave responsibly
BM Recently the #MeToo movement has not only shaken the corporate world but also the society as a whole. What do you think about this?
MN Women have suffered at the hands of male predators from time immemorial. There is hardly a woman who can truthfully say that she has never had toward of unwanted attention, be it at the workplace, at schools and colleges, at home from close relatives or friends, on public transport, even in places of worship and now on-line with the advent of social media. The worst kind of sexual harassment, however, is that resorted to by men in position of power and having the capacity to make or ruin a woman.
A few years ago, women chose either to ignore the advances or to strongly tell the wrong-doers off and then keep a safe distance from them. Even if they complained, they were often advised to not make an issue and to suppress their anger and disgust. This resulted in many an accused thinking that they had got away with their conduct and that they can do it again without any recrimination.
The #MeToo movement has given women courage to openly accuse their harassers and to demand punishment. Some have been slapped with defamation cases but it has also led to men being openly called out and shamed and being boycotted, causing them to resign form positions of power which they had misused.
The movement, however, has one disadvantage because often it is the word of the woman against that of the man and it is very difficult to have verifiable proof especially when most of the cases are now being reported reportedly have taken place several years ago. To believe that every case is genuine may become difficult and in the case of a false or malicious complaint, the reputation of the person suffers irretrievably.
Therefore, to keep the purity of the movement, it is essential that women behave with responsibility and not resort to making unfounded complaints. The movement will surely act as a deterrent at the least and ensure that men think twice before they resort to such unsavoury behaviour.
BM This is a critical moment for anyone who faces unwanted sexual advances at work. According to you what are the things a woman facing unwanted sexual advances at work can do?
MN Prior to the framing of the Visakha Guidelines by the Supreme Court, the only option a woman facing unwanted sexual advances at the workplace could do was to file a complaint or FIR under the relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code. With the passing of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and Rules framed under the Act, such a woman is now entitled to take action as prescribed under the Act. She has the option to make a complaint in writing to the Internal Complaints Committee constituted by her employer, or if not so constituted, the Local Complaints Committee set up by the District Officer appointed by the Government. This complaint has to be filed as expeditiously as possible and at any time within 3 months from the date of the incident and in the case of a series of incidents, within 3 months form the last incident.
BM Steps, companies should take while responding to sexual harassment allegations?
MN The companies would be well advised also to follow the provisions of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and Rules framed under the Act when dealing with a complaint received from a woman employee regarding sexual harassment. They should refer the complaint received to the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) constituted by the concerned company. The ICC should at the request of the aggrieved woman, take steps to settle the matter through conciliation. If settlement is not possible, the ICC should conduct an inquiry into the complaint in accordance with the principles of natural justice. During the pendency of the inquiry, the company should at the request of the complainant and on the recommendation of the ICC, not permit the accused person to report on the work/performance of the complainant or to write her confidential report and assign the same to another officer or transfer the woman or the accused to any other workplace or grant the woman 3 months leave or any other such relief. On completion of the inquiry if the ICC arrives at the conclusion that the complaint has been proved true, the company will comply with decision of the ICC and shall and confer punishment on the accused party as recommended by the ICC, which may amount to a warning, reprimand or censure, withholding of promotion, pay rise or increments, terminating services or calling upon the accused to undergo a counselling session or carrying out community service or tendering a written apology.
BM How should an employee's sexual harassment complaint be handled?
MN Any sexual harassment complaint received by the company should be handled with empathy and care. It should be referred immediately to the Internal Complaints Committee and the company should ensure that the complaint is disposed of satisfactorily within a period of ninety days.
The contents of a complaint and other details of the complainant, accused and witnesses, details of the conciliation or inquiry proceedings, recommendations made by the ICC and punishments meted out should all be held confidential. All in all, the company should provide a safe working environment at the workplace.
At the same time if the ICC inquiring into a complaint comes to the conclusion that the complaint is false or malicious or that the evidence produced is not genuine, the company shall punish the woman concerned as recommended by the ICC.