The DGP (Law and Order) had been accused of improper conduct by the complainant, who serves as a Superintendent of Police. Adding to the gravity of the situation, attempts were made by other police officers to stop the complainant from filing her grievance with the state DGP and the Home Secretary.
These developments in Tamil Nadu assume great significance when considered in the backdrop of events of a similar kind that have played out over the past few weeks. For instance, journalist Priya Ramani, who in the aftermath of the burgeoning #MeToo movement in India in 2018, had accused journalist turned Union Minister MJ Akbar of sexually harassing her over 20 years ago. Akbar had in turn filed a case of defamation against Ramani. Last week, the journalist was acquitted by the Delhi Court, where the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Ravindra Kumar Pandey, had said that reputation cannot be defended at the price of a woman’s life and dignity, which in itself would be a violation of one’s Constitutional rights to equality. The verdict was seen by human rights activists as a well-deserved addendum to the law on sexual harassment, by reinforcing that a woman has every right to air her grievance against the perpetrator of sexual misconduct even after many years of the purported act.
It might be recalled that it was in 1997, during the Vishaka judgment that the Supreme Court had for the first time recognised sexual harassment in the workplace as a form of discrimination, and a violation of a woman’s right to equality and work. And we also have the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, along with the Vishaka guidelines. Despite this, women still hold back when it comes to reporting sexual misconduct at the workplace, purely on account of the fear of backlash and retribution on the professional front. From the unacceptable act of victim shaming and the risks of diminished opportunity, owing to employers’ fears of long-winded litigation or dealing with predators in positions of power, the complainant has often had to hold back her grievances. To top it off, the charges of defamation that such allegations can be countered with, and the money and muscle power necessary to fight such legal battles have deterred most victims from going forth.
But things are beginning to look up now. Last December, an administrator employed at a college in Chennai who had alleged sexual harassment by a priest working within the college was awarded a compensation of Rs 64.30 lakh by the Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women. What’s now needed is a formal support mechanism, on account of the workplaces where we are employed. The tendency to compel victims of harassment to drop their charges on account of the status of the accused must not be a part of our vocabulary anymore. The victims are the ones that need the protection, not the victimisers.