|inquiry under way into the charge of sexual harassment, and to suspend
the officer pending the enquiry. While we at Manushi
were impressed by this official’s care and concern for the welfare
of the woman probationer who had asked for his intervention, we were
also very disturbed to discover that even an officer as highly placed
as he is did not have a well defined procedure or mechanism available
which he could set into motion to deal with such cases.This was true
even though the aggrieved woman is very well connected. She is, among
other things, the daughterinlaw of a high court judge.
Hence, his only recourse seemed to be desperate appeals to the
very top officials of the central government. However, very few
people have the connections this officer had for getting a hearing
at the ministerial level. Any procedure which is dependent on reaching
the prime minister and other central government ministers to deal
with each individual case of sexual harassment suffered by a woman,
whether in Bombay or in some remote provincial town, is simply not
Considering how widespread the problem is and how serious its consequences
for women, we need to begin by demanding that workplaces be made
safer for women. Lack of security from sexual harassment adversely
affects our fundamental right to work and earn a livelihood. Too
many women are compelled to withdraw from earning their livelihood
for fear of sexual harassment. A major prerequisite for making our
workplaces less insecure is to demand that every workplace install
and follow a rigorous set of procedures that make sexual harassment
an offence that might even result in the harasser losing his job
and being subject to court action.
Such procedures need not be elaborate or time consuming. Asapossible
example we present the broad
outlines of a procedure. These stipulations will need to be refined
and modified to make them appropriate for the requirements of particular
• In every work unit, be it a business firm, a university,
or a government office, a carefully selected person should be assigned
the task of listening to complaints of sexual harassment, recording
them in writing, and taking official note of each of them.
• This person should be authorised and equipped with the
necessary powers required to conduct enquiries either by her or
himself, or to appoint a committee to assist in completing this
• Annually, the women in that unit should be asked to provide
a confidential evaluation of the performance of this official in
order to ensure that the person holding such a responsible job enjoys
the confidence of the women in that unit. The official should not
continue to hold the position if a majority of
women don’thave confidence in her or him.
• The employer should be responsible for ensuring that everyemployee
working in the unit is made aware that sexual harassment is unacceptable
within the firm and is a punishable offence, both by the firm and
in the courts. A written code of acceptable and unacceptable conduct
should be provided to each employee, posted on the bulletin board,
and carefully reviewed in training, orientation and retraining programmes.
Punishments by the firm might range from censure, to loss of bonuses
and other extra compensation, to punitive fines, and in more severe
cases, to loss of job.
Building up an awareness that sexual harassment is unacceptable
within the unit in itself would act as an importantpreventive measure.
It would have a restraining effect on many of those who feel emboldened
to try it these days because they feel they can get away with it.
• The woman complainant should have the option of deciding
whether she wishes her complaint to be kept confidential or to make
• If there is a strong prima facie case against the accused
he may be temporarily suspended from his job forthwith, for thebrief
period of the investigation, so that he does not have the opportunity
to abuse his official position to intimidate the woman or her supporters.
• Itshouldbe mandatory to complete the enquiry and take
action within a specified period of time, no more than three months.
• It shouldalsobe mandatory to make the report of the enquiry
committee public unless the woman complainant specifically requests
them to keep it confidential. Not releasing these enquiry reports
is a common way of shielding the culprit by covering the matter
with a shroud of secrecy.
The Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, is already in the process
of establishing procedures for dealing with sexual harassment. We
invite our readers to send us their suggestions and hope that they
will ensure that such protective measures are taken in their respective
However, apart from demanding appropriate codes of conduct and
a grievance redressal mechanism, women also need to learn to defend
and protect themselves more effectively by taking their own measures.
misleading impression that his advances are acceptable to you. Some
men consider themselves entitled to react in obnoxious and sometimes
violent ways if they can convince themselves and others that they
were led on by a woman.
The first bad habit that we need
to reject is our own tendency to assume the attitude of a
powerless victim. Too many women behave in stupidly passive
ways in their relations with men, not saying a determined
“no” to unwelcome advances as soon as they start
occurring. We often let things go too far before we begin
to reject advances and start to protest, by which time many
others see us as having invited trouble or as willing participants
in a ‘flirtatious game.’ Too many of us live and
act in the belief that ‘men will be men/ that is, men
are always going to act sexually aggressive, however we try
to indicate that their advances are not welcome. In this view,
women just have to put up with such abuse because it’s
in the nature of things. This victim mentality is our worst
enemy, for this stereotyped role suits the aims of the aggressive
man best. We need to take responsibility for changing our
ineffective stereotypical behaviors. In this regard it is
important to act decisively as soon as possible, as soon as
unwelcome advances are made. By moving quickly you will not
allow the man to create the
Sometimes, not protesting early enough is in part responsible
for women remaining silent about incidents of sexual harassment
they suffer, because the longer such behavior continues, the more
lurid are its> manifestations and, therefore, the more embarrassing
to discuss with others or to make a public issue of. We need to
learn to talk about,such experiences without shame, to protest against
attempts at bullying or blackmail. Making this an open struggle
is our best protection against further sexual harassment and sexual
abuse because blackmailers have little leverage in an open atmosphere.
They thrive on fear and secrecy. You have a chance of defeating
them by being more direct and decisive.
It is also very important for women to learn to provide mutual
support and protection to each other rather than, as so often happens,
work against each other. In most units where bosses are prone to
harassing women sexually, one of the common ploys they use is to
offer crumbs and special favours to the ‘chosen ones.’Thiscauses
resentments, competition and mutual hostility among women employees
or students, who find it much harder to act with solidarity and
support each other in case of need. As a result, the task of exploiting
women becomes much easier. We need to learn to rely on our competence
and dignity rather than seek favours through flirtations which are
likely to alienate us from other women and deny us their respect
and support. A women not respected by other women is seldom taken
seriously by men and, therefore, less able to resist being sexually
abused or harassed.