Why Sexual Harassment Laws In India Are Gender -biased?
Author: Kashish Tiwari
Designation: Student, Ajeenkya DY Patil University
Remember the #MeToo movement that took the world by storm. The movement was considered as a much-needed step by the society at large which was needed to break the silence over sexual harassment faced by the women all over the world. But do such movements always showcase the actual picture of the society? In my opinion, it narrated one side of the story.
Before looking at the other side of the story let us understand the meaning of the term ‘sexual harassment’ according to the laws in force-
Sexual harassment amounts to gross violation of a woman’s right to equality and dignity which is guaranteed under Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The subjugation faced by the women in a patriarchal society, does not always have to be sexual, it can also take the form of teasing, intimidating or offensive comments, sending or sharing emails, text or messages of a sexual nature, unwanted or inappropriate touching of any body part, staring, making gestures of a sexual nature etc.
So what’s wrong with these laws?
The problem lies in the nature of these laws being gender-biased. A man or a transgender person can also be a victim of Sexual harassment and so the idea of #MeToo and similar movements should not be restricted to women alone. There are instances where men/trans persons are being targeted by their female counterparts/superior in a way that would sufficiently qualify as sexual harassment but such instances are overshadowed by the deeply ingrained cultural assumptions that only women could be a victim of such acts and unfortunately, our laws took no notice of it. The society does not allow a man to share his stories of sexual harassment because there is ‘macho image’ which has to be maintained otherwise it would go against the idea of masculinity.
According to the 2015 US Transgender survey, nearly 47% of the respondents were sexually assaulted at some point in their life and one in ten(10%) was sexually assaulted the past year.
The question that the author is trying to raise through this article is that, why can’t sexual harassment laws be gender-neutral?
Like women, other genders too face such violence and so, they must be provided with equal rights and opportunities like women to seek relief. The truth is India’s sexual harassment laws hardly provide any protection for men and transgender persons. The question arises as to why the idea of equality and justice so narrow? The centuries-old laws consider a man and a transgender person as aggressors and the same is reflected in the laws.
Surprisingly in 2013 the recommendations made by the Justice Verma committee, which was formed to suggest reforms in sexual harassment law with regards to gender neutrality of sexual offenses, have not been incorporated in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013.
Taking an entire women-centric approach to sexual violence and harassment laws result in the miscarriage of justice and put a big question mark upon the idea of equality before the law. It’s high time when the Indian laws need to be evolved with the needs and requirements of the society as large. Gender-neutral harassment laws are the need of the hour. The government should make laws in order to eliminate gender-based discrimination and must provide equal protection to all the sexes.