Monday, 30th October 2017

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Sorry sir, no harassment shield for men yet

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  • Published 17.10.10

New Delhi, Oct. 16: Men hoping to do what Michael Douglas did in Disclosure will have to wait. The abuse shield will stay women-centric.

The government has decided to retain the original provisions of Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill, 2010, as it feels the time is not yet ripe to take a gender-neutral position on the matter.

The bill, being prepared by the women and child development ministry, is to be placed before the Union cabinet.

“We had seriously thought about it (including men) for a while. But Indian realities are not socially neutral, so we decided to give our entire attention to protecting women,” said a ministry official drawing up the legislation.

Men’s rights groups had approached the government demanding that men be brought under the act on the ground that there were several occasions where male employees were subjected to sexual harassment.

Various options to bring men under the ambit of the act were considered but the government had to drop the plan in the face of stiff resistance from women’s groups which felt the inclusion would dilute the bill’s purpose.

The men’s groups had demanded the cover also to ensure that women did not misuse the act to “score brownie points over men” at work. But the ministry official disagreed. “Women are the victims in 99 per cent of sexual harassment cases. No woman in her senses would play with her dignity to settle scores with men,” he said.

So, for now, it appears curtains for those thinking of following Douglas, whose character in Disclosure sues his boss, played by Demi Moore, for harassment in the 1994 Hollywood thriller based on office intrigue in the IT industry.

The bill seeks set to provide the legislative backbone to the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in the landmark Vishaka case of 1997 where the judges defined what precisely constituted sexual harassment.

Once the bill is passed, all private organisations, institutions, unit or service provider — engaged in commercial, professional or industrial activities — with 10 or more employees will have to set up a complaints panel. If not, they can be penalised with fines up to Rs 50,000.

The draft law as it stands now says that if any employer, after being convicted of an offence under the act, is held guilty for the same offence again, the punishment will be three times greater than the first time. Government or local bodies will have the right to cancel the licence of such offenders.

The Vishaka judgment defined sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexually determined behaviour, physical contact, advances, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, sexual demand, request for sexual favours” and sexually-coloured conduct “whether verbal, textual, physical, graphic or electronic”.

It also included implied or overt promise or threat of preferential or detrimental treatment of a woman who complains of harassment.