Drawing The Line: What’s Appropriate And What’s Not

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“Beauty provokes harassment, the law says, but it looks through men’s eyes when deciding what provokes it”

–       Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

It begins with how harassment in today’s world is more complex and widespread than we would like to admit.

The definition of harassment is not always easy to crack and can often be nuanced and coded from different angles and perspectives.

It can be ambiguous and indirect, taking the form of ‘harmless’ insinuations and sometimes it can be subtly inappropriate.

So how can we know- what’s appropriate and what’s not, and where do we need to draw the line?

Several laws worldwide try to define this very line, but we need to ask this question- do the laws define it that well? The answer would be a straight ‘NO’.

What does the law say?

Workplace Sexual Harassment is a form of gender-based discrimination that violates women’s fundamental right to equality and freedom to life, guaranteed under Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the constitution of India.

Indian’s first legislation that explicitly addresses workplace sexual harassment, the sexual harassment of women at the workplace (prevention, prohibition and redressal) – “POSH ACT” came into force in 2013.

The Act defines sexual harassment at the workplace as an unwelcome act or behaviour (directly or by implication), namely- demand or request for any sexual favours, making sexual remarks, showing pornographic content, making physical contact or advances, any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non0verbal conduct of any nature.

The Act also envisages setting up internal complaints committees at every office or institution, having more than ten employees and setting up local committees in every district for companies having less than ten employees.

The law also ensures that the committee members are appropriately trained to strengthen their knowledge to tackle any complaint.

What’s the real issue?

Although the law preventing sexual harassment at the workplace is in force since 2013, there remains a lack of clarity on various aspects, including- what constitutes sexual harassment, obligations of an employer, remedies available to the victim, the procedure of investigation and much more.

Any tool would be useless if the person operating it is unaware of how to use it- this is the biggest issue, where women are not fully aware of the criminal consequences of sexual harassment.

Many inappropriate actions are dismissed as usual or either joked off. Women are always made to believe that all this is a part of their lives, and they can’t do anything about it.

Even if women are aware, they are hesitant to initiate actions due to apprehension of being disbelieved or ridiculed.

Women in the lower position are often vulnerable to sexual harassment by their senior counterparts, giving predators a higher stand due to their money, power and status.

All these facts underpin the need for greater awareness and greater enforcement.

I feel that a paper of rules mentioning- DO’s and DON’T don’t define what’s appropriate and what’s not.

Many things are left unsaid and need to be added in the law books because harassment at the workplace is not all about mental trauma.

Harassment can be much more damaging than we think. It affects one’s morale, performance, institutional reputation- having a life-long impact.

And all this needs to be taken into account while formulating the definition of the so-called ‘LINE’ because it’s high time we stop normalising inappropriate behaviours with women.

Alisha Singh
Alisha Singh
A political science graduate from the University of Mumbai, with a keen interest towards geopolitics and international affairs. A curious reader with a "want to know it all" outlook and a part time writter who finds solace in expressing her thoughts through her writings.She lives with a burning desire to excel in her field choices and loves to connect with people overa cup of tea and some political gossips!

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