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SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT WORKPLACE IS AGAINST THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN: SUPREME COURT

Updated: Jan 21

Civil Appellate Jurisdiction

Civil appeal No 1809 of 2020

(Arising out of SLP(C ) No11985 of 2019)

Punjab and Sind Bank & Ors. ( Appellants)

Mrs Durgesh Kuwar (Respondent)

Judgment: 25th February 2020

Bench : [Justice Dr Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud]


Sexual harassment at a workplace is considered a violation of women's right to equality, life and liberty. It creates an insecure and hostile work environment, which discourage women's participation in work, thereby adversely affecting their social and economic empowerment and the goal of inclusive growth1. With this idea, the legislature formulated the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013.


After 16 years of Vishaka, The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 ("the Act") was enacted with the objective to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment and for matter connected therewith or incidental thereto.


The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 defines sexual harassment as unwelcome acts or behaviour (whether directly or by implication) namely, physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours, making sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.


Any act of unwelcome and sexual nature shall be considered as sexual harassment. A physical contact which has no undertone of a sexual nature and is not occasioned by the gender of the complainant may not necessarily amount to sexual harassment.


An appeal regards to sexual harassment was raised in the Division bench Indore, High Court Madhya Pradesh on 18th March 2019 in a writ appeal arising of an order of single judge dated 11th of February 2019. The supreme court observed that the respondent, who was Chief manager scale IV, has transferred to another branch. Because she complained about the irregularities and corruptions in maintaining accounts of liquor contractors of her office and her complaints about sexual harassment against the officer met with an order of transfer.


She was transferred to the branch which was about 600 kilometres and posted as Scale I Officer of that Bank. The order challenged in the High Court of Madhya Pradesh under Article 226 of the constitution. The single bench after hearing the pleading quashed the order of transfer, by saying that it was against the violation of bank as well as guidelines of the Ministry of finance.


In an appeal, the division bench stated that she had a serious allegation against the Zonal Manager and it brought in the attention of the Executive Director of the branch. In an appeal to the Apex Court, who upheld the high court verdict by saying that the sexual harassment at the workplace is an affront to the fundamental rights of a woman.


Her right to equality under Articles 14, equal protection of Law, and Article 15, Prohibition on the basis of caste, sex, religion, Her Right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the constitution and her right to practise any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business under Article 19(1)(g), are violated and she is being deprived of her rights.


Though the respondent had made written repeated communications to the authorities against the corruption and sexual harassment at workplace, the supreme court said that there could be no doubt that the respondent has victimised. The counsel appearing for the bank said that the allegation made toward the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) has no substance. After referring to the case, the apex court said that this is symptomatic of a carrot and stick policy adopted to suborn the dignity of women who are aggrieved by unfair treatment at her workplace and suffer sexual harassment.


The law cannot countenance this. The court while delivering the judgment said that the order of transfer was an act of unfair treatment and vitiated by malafides. The court also reinstates the respondent at the Indore branch as a Scale-IV officer for One Year from the date of Judgment. Expiry of the said period, the authority of the bank has the right to take appropriate decisions according to law. The court directed that the respondent would be entitled to Rs. 50,000/- which shall be paid over within one month, for the mental dilemma she has faced over time and harassment faced in the workplace.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

KR Azad is currently pursuing LL.M from The National University Of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS), Kochi,

You can contact him at- https://www.instagram.com/keralaparambil/?hl=en

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