Why in news?
- Recently, the Centre announced its plan to set up a panel of judges to look into the legal and institutional framework to curb sexual harassment at workplaces following the #MeToo campaign on social media.
- Justice J.S. Verma Committee was formed in the aftermath of the December 16 Nirbhaya gangrape in 2012 and the ensuing nationwide protests.
- It submitted its report on January 23, 2013.
- In its landmark report on gender laws, it recommended setting up of an employment tribunal instead of an internal complaints committee (ICC) in sweeping changes to the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill.
- At that time of the submission of the report, the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill had already been passed by the Lok Sabha and was awaiting the Rajya Sabha’s nod.
- The Bill was passed unchanged by the Upper House a month later.
- The Committee termed the Sexual Harassment Bill “unsatisfactory” and said it did not reflect the spirit of the Vishakha guidelines — framed by the Supreme Court in 1997 to curb sexual harassment at the workplace.
Verma Panel report
- The committee proposed forming an employment tribunal to receive and adjudicate all complaints.
- To ensure speedy disposal of complaints, the Justice Verma Commitee proposed that the tribunal should not function as a civil court but may choose its own procedure to deal with each complaint.
- The Committee said any “unwelcome behaviour” should be seen from the subjective perception of the complainant, thus broadening the scope of the definition of sexual harassment.
- The Verma panel said an employer could be held liable if he or she facilitated sexual harassment, permitted an environment where sexual misconduct becomes widespread and systemic, where the employer fails to disclose the company’s policy on sexual harassment and ways in which workers can file a complaint as well as fails to forward a complaint to the tribunal.
- The company would also be liable to pay compensation to the complainant
- The panel also made several suggestions to encourage women to come forward and file complaints. For instance, it opposed penalising women for false complaints and called it an “abusive provision intended to nullify the objective of the law”.
- The Verma panel also said that the time-limit of three months to file a complaint should be done away with and a complainant should not be transferred without her consent.
What stops women from not opening up on harassment at work place?
- The dominant status of men in workplaces i.e power and privilege,
- The very lack of understanding on what constitutes sexual harassment,
- The social stigma associated with the instances,
- The lack of trust on people to share this,
- The lack of awareness on the legal recourses available and
- Above all, the emotional trauma out of the incident
About #Metoo campaign
- The ‘MeToo’ movement was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke.
- It was to help survivors of sexual violence, by creating a community of survivors who move forward together.
- The #MeToo spread virally as a hashtag used on social media in an attempt to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual harassmentin the workplace.
- It started gaining national attention in October 2017 in the U.S, after allegations of sexual assault by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced.
- It has gained momentum in India in the recent weeks.
About Vishakha guidelines
- The Vishaka guidelines were laid down by the Supreme Court in Vishakha and others v/s State of Rajasthan judgment in 1997.
- It imposes three key obligations on employing institutions – prohibition, prevention, and redress.
- The institutions are mandated to establish a Complaints Committee.
- This was to look into matters of sexual harassment of women at the workplace.
- These guidelines are legally binding.