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Same-Gender Sexual Harassment Complaints Maintainable Under POSH Act: Calcutta HC

Calcutta High Court has held that same-gender complaints are maintainable under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, commonly referred to as the POSH Act.

The Court observed that Section 2(m) of the 2013 Act shows that the term "respondent" brings within its fold "a person", thereby including persons of all genders.

The verdict was given by a single bench of Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya in the case Dr. Malabika Bhattacharjee v Internal Complaints Committee, Vivekananda College and others.

The case was a writ petition which challenged the action of the Internal Complaints Committee of an institution to accept a complaint under the Act as without jurisdiction on the ground that both the complainant and the respondent belonged to the same gender.

Though the High Court said that there was 'some substance' in the petitioner's argument that the definition of 'respondent' has to be read in conjunction with the rest of the statute, it said that "there is nothing in Section 9 of the 2013 Act to preclude a same-gender complaint under the Act".

The Court  observed that the definition of "sexual harassment" in Section 2(n) cannot be a static concept but has to be interpreted against the back-drop of the social perspective.

"Sexual harassment, as contemplated in the 2013 Act, thus, has to pertain to the dignity of a person, which relates to her/his gender and sexuality; which does not mean that any person of the same-gender cannot hurt the modesty or dignity as envisaged by the 2013 Act.

A person of any gender may feel threatened and sexually harassed when her/his modesty or dignity as a member of the said gender is offended by any of the acts, as contemplated in Section2(n), irrespective of the sexuality and gender of the perpetrator of the act", the Court added.

 Source: Live Law