#MeTooIndia : The Legal Route, Corporate Chronicle And Breakthrough In Sports

In light of series of accounts from women, accusing public figures of sexual assault, harassment and misconduct, that have emerged in India triggering an uprising called the #MeToo movement, the Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, has taken a positive step to help survivors in a strict move against sexual harassment cases. She said that her ministry would set up a four-member committee of senior judicial and legal persons to conduct public hearings of sexual abuse cases and examine all the #MeToo cases.

The committee will look into the legal and institutional framework which is in place for handling complaints of sexual harassment at work, including some of the complaints if required, and advise the ministry on how to strengthen these, the minister said. “It takes a lot for women to come out like this. These cases have been elephants in the rooms for the last 25 years.

The question here is how can they prove these after all these years…they have faced verbal assault, they have been touched, pinched, their clothes have been pulled…

“The first thing to do is naming and shaming these monsters. Naming and shaming will go a long way in lessening the pain these women have been carrying,” she said.

The next step, she said, is to set up a committee that would listen to the women.

Over a hundred names have come up since the anti-sexual harassment movement gained power in India. Many of these names belong to men in positions of power, ranging from media, sports, corporates, comedy, politics and cinema. Women and men are braving consequences such as losing their jobs and facing threats to their safety and security in naming these powerful people and holding them accountable for their actions.

“I believe in the pain and trauma behind every single complaint,” said Union Minister Maneka Gandhi while asserting that sexual harassment must be dealt with a policy of zero tolerance.

As the #MeToo movement gathers momentum in India, the big question is: what next?

The Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) has launched a separate email address to report cases of sexual harassment under the #MeToo movement which is [email protected] One can also call 181 for any assistance regarding the same, the DCW said in a statement.

The commission has also appealed to the women of the #MeToo campaign to report the incidents of sexual crimes to the police and women commissions, it said.

“This reporting will pave the path for putting these sexual predators behind bars, something that should have been done long ago,” it added.

If we dig deep into the Indian Penal Code and especially the Laws against Sexual Harassment, here’s a brief yet helpful solution. (Source: The Indian Express)

There are several laws under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that tends to make workplaces safer for women. Here’s a quick guide that makes you aware of the laws of the Indian Penal Code. Be it a small inappropriate gesture to molestation and rape, there are laws in favour of women that cover everything.

● IPC Section 294: Doing any obscene act in any public place. Singing, reciting or uttering obscene songs or words in or near any public space shall be punished with imprisonment for up to three months or fined, or both.
● IPC Section 354 (A): Making unwanted physical contact with a woman against a woman’s will may land you in jail for about three years.
● IPC Section 354 (C): Watching or capturing the image of a woman in a private act without her consent is voyeurism. The man shall be punished with imprisonment for 1-3 years in addition to a fine. If the accused is convicted the second time he may face a jail term for 3-7 years and fine.
● IPC Section 354 (D): Stalking i.e. following someone with or without their knowledge. The accused shall be punished with imprisonment for 1-3 years or fine, or both.
● IPC Section 499: Morphing picture/s of a woman and sharing them with intent to harass and defame her is a crime. The accused shall be punished with imprisonment for up to 2 years or fine or both.
● IPC Section 503: If a woman refuses to someone’s sexual favours and is met by threats for physical or reputational harm shall be punished with imprisonment for 2 years or fine, or both.
● IPC Section 67 of IT Act: Posting any obscene or defamatory material on a public online platform intending to harass a woman is a crime. The accused shall be punished with imprisonment for 2 years with a fine.
● IPC Section 509: Uttering words, gesture or act intended to harm the modesty of a woman shall be punished with imprisonment for 2 years or with fine, or both. Also abusing a woman with sexual remarks on social media may land the accused in jail for about 3 years and fine.

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013

● A senior colleague demanding sexual favours in exchange for work benefits –promotion or salary hike.
● Any workplace with more than 10 employees should have an internal complaints committee.
● If an act of sexual harassment happens inside the transportation facility provided by the organisation, you have the right to a complaint under the act.
● The committee can take action against the complainant in case of false allegation. But, if the complainant is not being able to prove herself doesn’t mean her allegations are false.
● If a woman complaints about sexual harassment in a workplace, the inquiry has to be completed in 90 days.
● Your domestic help also comes under the act, considering your home her

Is complaint in writing mandatory?

For the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to act, a complaint by the victim in writing is not mandatory. Any member from the committee can provide assistance to her for submitting the complaint. In case of death or physical or mental incapacity, her legal heir is allowed to do so.

Settlement

The committee may take steps to settle the issue between the complainant and the respondent through conciliation.
What happens next?

Further, the ICC should start an inquiry that has to be completed within 90 days or forward the complaint to the police. After completion of the inquiry, the committee has to submit a report to the employer with 10 days. If the complaint is found to be false, action against the women can be taken.

Background of Vishakha guidelines

In the 1990s, a Rajasthan state government employee Bhanwari Devi tried to stop child marriages as part of her job. Enraged by her the landlords of the community with an aim to teach her a lesson raped her repeatedly. Unfortunately, she was not served justice by the Rajasthan High Court and the rapists were let free. This enraged a lot of women and a PIL was filed by women groups including Vishakha. In 1997, in a landmark judgment, laid down guide.

Women across the spectrum have been calling out their harassers in fields like cinema, entertainment, stand-up comedy, academia, journalism, politics and some in between. Now people are encouraging women working in corporates and sports to summon the strength to speak out and sully long-held reputations.

Corporates in India are up on their toes with allegations from their employees. While most of the organizations have their policies around sexual harassment, they are under pressure to relook at their sexual misconduct policies with the #MeToo movement heating up.

Experts feel that companies need to address the more significant cultural problem by empowering human resources that see their policies through and reaffirm equality at the workplace.

Arvind Jain, CEO of NetBiz said“I feel the #MeToo movement in India will be a lasting one and we will see changes in how certain people treat the opposite sex. While I wouldn’t call sexual harassment policies in corporate India as inadequate, we know that things aren’t perfect and certain cases do end up slipping through the cracks,”

Female employees across the industry are becoming vocal about their past incidents at the workplace. Organizations not only need to strengthen their sexual harassment policy but also need to frame policies in such a manner that no employees should face it in the first place.

Senior, CPI Leader, Brinda Karat termed this scenario at workplace ‘Shameful.’ Speaking at a press conference, she said,

“No consent from a woman means any act of sexual nature is an act of sexual harassment. Such men should be punished. It is shameful that the law is not being implemented at most workplaces.”

Cases of sexual harassment at the workplace are not new with many incidents having occurred in the corporate world too from time to time. Some cases in the industry are :

Aditya Pawan of Red Bull India

From his days at MICA to his career at Red Bull, women have called out Aditya Pawan for forcing himself on unwilling women to propagating a ‘rape culture’ at Red Bull.

Air India

Air India stripped its general manager of inflight services of his post in August after a flight attendant made allegations of sexual harassment against him. The woman had also written to civil aviation minister Suresh Prabhu in this regard. She had also approached the Woman and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi. The minister had later sought a report on the same from Air India. The woman alleged that she had been harassed for the last six years by the senior executive. She had described the executive as a ‘predator’

The ‘Rape Culture’ at 22Feet Tribal Worldwide

Following an anonymous blog by an ex-employee of the ad firm, several former employees have come out on Twitter to confirm the sexist culture at the company, as well as to vouch for the authenticity of the voice in the blog.

The Viral Fever

TVF or The Viral Fever, the web comedy channel, created a stir in India in 2017 when Arunabh Kumar, its CEO, had to step down from his position after an anonymous sexual harassment complaint on blogging platform Medium. The complaint was filed by a former female employee under the pseudonym Indian Fowler. Kumar stepped down saying the allegations of sexual harassment against him were hurting the company.

Raj Kurup of Creativeland Asia

Multiple women have spoken out against alleged ‘serial harasser’ Raj Kurup, founder of Creativeland Asia, brand communications, advertising and design firm with tales of forcibly being made to watch porn, questioning employees about their sexual fantasies or asking questions like “Wouldn’t it be crazy if you kissed me right now?”

Wipro (2015)

The software services firm was involved in a scandal when an employee alleged that she was being discriminated against when it came to her salary and that her manager had forced her to have an alleged affair. The employee worked for Wipro in London and filed a GBP1.2-million lawsuit in October 2015. Wipro contested the case and, in May 2016, declared the UK Employment Tribunal had ruled in its favour. “Wipro Limited is pleased that the UK Employment Tribunal has upheld the dismissal of the complainant from the services of the organisation as appropriate and rejected claims of adverse cultural attitude towards women in the organisation,” a company spokesperson had told the Economic Times.

Dinesh Swamy of iProspect

One testimony has also come out against Dinesh Swamy, senior creative director at iProspect, a digital performance marketing agency. From joking about masturbating in the office loo to tickling women, he has been called out for his misdemeanours.
TERI (Tata Energy Research Institute) (2015)

In February 2015, RK Pachauri, then director general of TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute), was accused of sexually harassing a researcher at the organisation since September 2013. Pachauri denied the allegations. He claimed his computer and phone were hacked, but the police did not believe it. This was not the end. A week after the first complaint, another woman alleged sexual harassment by Pachauri. In March 2016, the Delhi police charged him with sexual harassment, assault or use of criminal force on a woman with intent to disrobe, stalking and gesturing, or acting with the intention of insulting the modesty of a woman. TERI first appointed Pachauri as executive vice-chairman despite the allegations, but eventually he was dismissed from the institution

Mahesh Murthy

The 52-year-old investor was first called out for molesting, stalking and sending sexually explicit text messages to a Delhi-based woman entrepreneur who complained about him to the National Commission for Women (NCW) in 2017. In December 2017, Murthy was booked under multiple sections of the IPC and the IT Act and arrested by the Mumbai police.

Greenpeace (2015)

In June 2015, environment rights NGO Greenpeace India faced trouble and unwanted media attention, as an ex-staffer went public with allegations of rape and sexual harassment by her colleagues. The complainant alleged that she had to leave her job in 2013 after being sexually harassed and raped by her colleagues. Narrating her ordeal, she said that it started a year after she had joined the NGO at their Bengaluru office. The first incident happened during an official trip in October 2012. She decided to tell her story through a Facebook post. Immediately after her post, Greenpeace issued an apology on their website and promised it would re-investigate the case.

Tehelka (2013)

In November 2013, Tarun Tejpal, a senior journalist and editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine was accused of molesting a young female employee in an elevator in a Goa hotel. The incident took place during the magazine’s annual conclave, Thinkfest. The Goa police immediately charged Tejpal with rape, sexual harassment, taking advantage of his official position and committing rape on a woman in his custody. Tejpal spent six months in jail before the supreme court granted him bail. The incident led to another fallout, the exit of Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhary.

Air India (2012)

In 2012, an employee working at a restaurant at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, filed a case against a senior Air India official, accusing him of sexually harassing her. The employee worked with a firm to which Air India had outsourced work. The woman said the official had made physical advances. While the police launched a probe, the woman said her complaint to an assistant general manager at Air India was ignored earlier.

From the sector that gave birth to the idea of a ‘glass ceiling’, it is only a matter of time before corporate honchos will have to hide behind something other than their reputations and corner offices, to evade the tide of retribution.
The ‘Me Too’ movement has now even engulfed sports – Cricket and Badminton, for now.

In a shocking revelation, an Indian flight attendant has broken her silence and accused former Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga of sexually harassing her at a hotel in Mumbai.

Sharing her night of horror through a lengthy Facebook post, the victim revealed how Ranatunga (currently Sri Lanka’s Minister of Petroleum Resources Development) allegedly grabbed her by the waist and slid his hands along the side of her breasts.

“My starstruck colleague spotted Indian and Sri Lankan cricketers in the elevator of Hotel Juhu Centaur, Mumbai and decided to meet them in their room for autographs. I decided to chaperone her, fearing for her safety, we were offered drinks (perhaps laced) I declined and stuck to my bottle of water I’d brought along. They were 7 and we 2, they latched the room door putting the chain secure. My discomfort growing inside of me, I urged her to get back to our room,” her post read.

“She was smitten and wanted to go for a stroll by the poolside, this was at 1900 hrs, the walk to the pool a desolate, unlit pathway at the back of the hotel, I look back to find (her friend) and the Indian cricketer nowhere in sight,” she claimed.
“Ranatunga grabs me by the waist, sliding his hands along the side of my breasts, I scream fearing the worst, kicking on his legs and feet. Threatening him of dire consequences, passport cancellation, reporting it to the cops etc., for he is a Sri Lankan misbehaving with an Indian. Wasting no time, I dashed for the hotel reception, a good run on an incline screaming on top of my voice. The reception said, “it is your private matter” and that they can’t help me,” the woman added.

Ranatunga is yet to comment on her allegations.

In another case, former India badminton player Jwala Gutta took to social media over the ‘mental harassment’ she endured as a professional just as the #MeToo movement has begun to take the nation by storm. Gutta addressed what she felt was a selection bias in the national team that worked against her, despite the fact that her performances merited selection.

The Hyderabad-based player had a long-standing and much-publicised feud with chief national coach P Gopichand, during which she alleged that he concentrated solely on singles players while ignoring the ones in doubles.

She went on to claim that criticism of Gopichand resulted in her being sidelined from the national team and even the loss of doubles partners. But she did not mention his name in the tweets.

She hinted that the inconsistency in the selection process was one of the reasons she chose to retire from the sport.

“Maybe I should talk about the mental harassment I had to go through…#metoo,” she said.

Gutta has won four Commonwealth Games medals in her career, including a finish atop the podium at Delhi 2010.

PV Sindhu ha spoken in favour of the survivors, saying “I appreciate that people have come forward and spoken about it. I respect it,” on the sidelines of a Vodafone event, where the telecom company launched a woman-specific service ‘Sakhi’.

Asked if she was aware of any such incident in sports, Sindhu replied, “I don’t know about seniors and coaches. As far as I am concerned, I have been on the sports circuit for years and it has been good and fine with me.”

Sexual harassment and assault is not a country problem, it is a society problem. For years, women have been suppressed, forced, used and abused. Sexual harassment is a grave issue which has been conveniently ignored by many since ages, sadly, even by women.

It is ridiculous to see the number of women who have faced the culture of sexual harassment at workplace and how it has been normalised by our society. It is shameful to see how majority of women around the world have been downgraded to a sexual objects by many.

But latest wave of public disclosures about how powerful and formerly respectable men in the media used their position to harass, humiliate and violate women is quite different. The women in #MeTooIndia are not hiding behind a veil of anonymity. They are coming out in the open, identifying themselves, naming the perpetrators, and are willing to pay the price for speaking out. Their courage mandates that we take what they say seriously. Their accounts are not just wild, broad-brush allegations.

All this may not add up to hard, irrefutable evidence in a court of law, but you have to be morally numb not to feel that these stories are believable, credible and authentic. You have to be cussed if the fact of these women standing up to powers-that-be does not move you.

The opportunity here is not just a safer workplace for women. This moment has arrived in the wake of the Supreme Court judgments on privacy, Section 377 and adultery. This is happening concurrently with women students of several universities demanding freedom from arbitrary restriction for women on the campus. In this context, #MeTooIndia holds the promise of changing the public culture on issues related to gender in our country.

There is already something positive. Mainstream media has been forced to break its silence on this issue. Perhaps for the first time, such disclosures have been followed by clean apologies, resignation and inquiries. Much more can and should be expected in the days to come.

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