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Is the women in today’s world really safe?

With the beginning of New Year, a look upon the major political and social events in year 2018 was the Me Too Movement. This movement is of major significance as this had and will have far reaching consequences not only from the point of view of social and moral issues but also legally for years to come. Me Too movement will definitely be considered as a historical in the development of Feminist Movement in India.

The Me Too movement in India is a manifestation of the international Me Too movement. In India, the Me Too movement is seen as either an independent outgrowth influenced by the international campaign against sexual harassment of women in the workplace, or an offshoot of the American "Me Too" social movement. Me Too Movement began gaining prominence in India with the increasing popularity of the international movement, and later gathered sharp momentum in October 2018 in the entertainment industry of Bollywood, centred in Mumbai, when actress Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment. This led to many women in the news media, Indian films, and even within the government to come forward and speak about sexual harassment faced by them. As a result there have been cases registered against the alleged perpetrator and cases of Defamation has been filed against the woman complaining on ground of maligning of image and character, defaming and shaming in public.

This issue has raised many questions such as- How safe is the woman?, Are the existing laws adequate to deal with such issues and new challenges? Are woman using this movement as a weapon to take revenge or ‘come in the limelight’? Most importantly- why speak now after so many years? People are questioning the authenticity of the allegations made. Statement are made – “the film industry is such, why make hue and cry? She must have called for it” “At the time when it happened she didn’t raise an alarm now she making after so many years” etc.,

In midst of all such statements and comments what is missed is the core issue- safety of woman. Be it any industry or employment safety and protection from sexual harassments is of utmost importance. There needs to be building up of work culture where passing of sexual comments as a joke and “comments said in a lighter mood” should be avoided. It is unfortunate that in spite of rights enshrined in the Constitution and laws enacted for woman, woman continue to face sexual harassments and sexual violence. And when they speak about it, in spite of showing concern towards the issue and the fact that such horrendous incident has happened, woman are surrounded by questions, statements and fingers pointing at them which should actually be pointed towards the perpetrator. It is to make clear here that name shaming is by no means promoted or encouraged. What is conveyed is the response and attitude shown by the general masses towards the issue. Upon the question of falsity and truthfulness of the incident, it is the duty of courts to decide who is right and wrong so one should let the law take its own course.

Another factor which was amusing is people questioning the time of woman complaining as if elections are around the corner wherein timing plays an important factor! People should understand that harassment of any nature is bad and it causes a lot of physical and mental damage to a person. It takes a lot of time and courage for the victim to speak about the harassment faced as such people undergo tremendous psychological issues leading to depression. The time frame of healing and curing differs from person to person. Therefore one cannot say that after the day of incident or after a week or within 6 months you should have complained/ filed report or spoken about it else speaking later is an “after-thought” or “false complaint”.

It is an open secret that woman don’t file complaint or report the incident due to fear of not getting jobs, social boycott, facing the hassles of investigation and court proceedings.

Speaking about the existing laws in India relating to sexual harassment of women at workplace, it is to be found in ‘The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.’ Under the Act section 9 prescribes a period of limitation for filing a complaint and the power of the committee to condone the delay is also limited, this is extremely inadequate to address the new challenges. The said section of the Act is quoted herein below:- “Section 9 - Complaint of sexual harassment (1) Any aggrieved woman may make, in writing, a complaint of sexual harassment at workplace to the Internal Committee if so constituted, or the Local Committee, in case it is not so constituted, within a period of three months from the date of incident and in case of a series of incidents, within a period of three months from the date of last incident: Provided further that the Internal Committee or, as the case may be, the Local Committee may, for the reasons to be recorded in writing, extend the time limit not exceeding three months, if it is satisfied that the circumstances were such which prevented the woman from filing a complaint within the said period.” Sadly, the Act contemplates only an inquiry and the procedure to be adopted is as provided under the Code of Civil Procedure. Section 13(3) of the Act further provides that when the committee arrives at a conclusion that the allegation against the respondent has been proved, it shall recommend to the employer and the District Officer as the case may be. In so far as the Indian Penal Code is concerned, no doubt by way of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 Section 354A has been inserted to tackle the menace of sexual harassment and the said offence has been made punishable with imprisonment which may extend to three years. However, it is well known that in criminal matters the process is the punishment and since no time period has been prescribed for completion of investigation or trial of such offences, unlike child rape, there is every likelihood that the complainant would be at the receiving end and is most likely to abandon the proceedings after some time. The Indian law therefore, needs to provide, as in a case of child rape, a time frame for completion of investigation and prosecution of these offences so that the offenders are brought to book at the very earliest. Procedural law, as well as substantive law, needs to be amended.

Currently the Me Too Movement in India speaks predominately about the incidents in the film industry. One wonders what will happen when this movement is spread across other employments and professions. Surprising our political leaders have time and patience to comment upon the various visits and mannerism of the opposition political leaders but not enough to comment an important issue of this nature.