Though Women In India Are Naming And Shaming Their Sexual Harassers Openly, What’s Next?
- IWB Post
- October 11, 2018
In the wake of the #MeToo movement in India, we come across a fresh allegation of sexual harassment every day. While that indeed is a big step towards ditching the shame and fear one feels over being the victim of harassment, it is not the ultimate solution. Most women in India are afraid to take any action beyond social media testimonials as for them legal recourse appears to be intimidating, costly and above everything else, futile. But the fact is that it’s not.
Let’s take the example of author Rashmi Bansal who spoke out against the sexual misconduct of entrepreneur Mahesh Murthy in 2017. He denied all allegations, but instead of accepting defeat, Bansal filed a case against Murthy and got justice.
“The entire process of filing an FIR took about 1.5-2 hours. My experience was that the police were sensitive and helpful. A lady constable was also present. I did not feel awkward. They let me speak without interruption. They gave my complaint due respect and importance. My lawyer Vandana Shah was also present,” Bansal recalled.
That doesn’t sound scary now, does it? So, here is the legal process that Bansal followed- first she filed a written complaint against Murthy with NCW (National Commission for Women) who then forwarded the same to the local police station. Next, Bansal filed an FIR in the said police station and then visited the magistrates’ court in Dadar (Mumbai) on a day of her convenience.
Even though Mahesh Murthy’s lawyers tried to kill the FIR in the Bombay High Court, they were not successful. Following this, the charge sheet was then filed.
“The support of the NCW and my lawyer (Shah) gave me the confidence to take legal action. I advise all women who’ve faced any sexual harassment to file an FIR. I know family and friends advise you not to get into ‘court kachahari ka chakkar’. And they mean well. But I want to assure you that the system can be navigated. There are laws to protect women and we need to use those laws to get convictions and send out a strong message,” she said.
“Women who are employed in an organisation, let’s say the women journalists who have been harassed at the workplace, can seek legal recourse by the measures provided in the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013, which basically recommends lodging a complaint with the Internal Complaints Committee, which must conduct an inquiry into the complaint. Based on the inquiry report, a course of action is then decided, be it determining the compensation to be paid to the aggrieved woman or terminating the employment of the male employee against whom the veracity of the complaint has been proven,” said Bansal’s lawyer, Shah.
“Women can also choose to follow a path outside the realm of the workplace and file a criminal complaint against the sexual predator under various provisions of the IPC (Indian Penal Code), such as Section 354 and 509,” added Bansal.
“They try and maintain the anonymity of the complainant. While filing the FIR, keeping in mind the sensitivity of the issue, usually there is a lady constable also present,” Shah said. After the FIR has been lodged, the charge sheet is prepared and the matter then proceeds in the court.
“Women’s organisations like the NCW also provide support. It is helpful to have a lawyer who can guide you through the legal process,” Bansal added. “Please note the fact that an incident happened many years ago does not make your complaint less valid. Do not feel hesitant or guilty about why you did not do it earlier.”
“Women who come out and speak and complain, even if it is after many years, are courageous. They know this fight is going to be tough, but still they take the challenge. NCW is always with them if they want to take it forward with the police,” said Rekha Sharma, Chairperson of NCW.
“By law, if and when news of the FIR is published your name cannot be revealed. If you wish to remain anonymous it will be so,” said Bansal. “Sexual harassment does not mean the end of the world, but like I tell the women who I represent, if we don’t take legal action against the perpetrators they will multiply like amoeba. After all, perpetrators are like amoeba — gutless and a mass of squeamish jelly!”