The sexual harassment case against former Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chief and Director-General of The Energy Research Institute (TERI) Rajendra Pachauri has again brought into focus an unsettling fact: Despite the stringent Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013, the message that breaching boundaries of acceptable conduct is unacceptable and illegal is still to sink in for many.
While the TERI employee has boldly filed a case against Pachauri — not a mean feat considering the power structure at TERI is loaded against her — let’s not forget those who are forced to keep silent against such harassment despite the law.
In a moving piece in a national daily on Thursday, a sexual harassment victim wrote about reasons why women desist from taking action against perpetrators. A key issue is that many lack sound knowledge of the law and procedures for filing a complaint. Second, there is the fear of ridicule and lack of support in the office, and most importantly, a hostile home environment where she is often denied emotional support and solidarity. The author correctly diagnoses the problem: No law will work unless and until we “address other socio-legal cultural underpinnings that cause women to keep quiet”.
The situation is worse for women who work in the unorganised sector where sexual harassment is common but remains unarticulated due to fear of loss of employment. The 2013 Act is not applicable here but the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, is adequate to bring justice to victims. Strong laws alone are not enough, but the silver lining in the cloud is that they have emboldened some women in the organised sector to come forward protest against sexual harassment.