Legal

Sexual Harassment and Rape Laws in India

calendar08 Jun, 2023
timeReading Time: 7 Minutes
Sexual Harassment and Rape Laws in India

Sexual harassment is a form of gender-based violence that violates the right to gender equality, and it has become a major problem in India. Sexual harassment is a behaviour that is unwelcome and often repeated, that is intended to intimidate, humiliate, or harm an individual or a group of individuals, and that is based on sex or gender. Sexual harassment can take many forms, including verbal harassment, physical harassment, and online harassment. It is prevalent in workplaces, educational institutions, and public spaces in India.

Overview

Sexual harassment is a common occurrence in India, particularly in the workplace. The term is used to describe any unwanted physical or verbal advances, including inappropriate touching, unwanted sexual overtures, and other forms of unwanted behaviour. Sexual harassment can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender, but women are the primary victims in India.

In India, sexual harassment in the workplace is called “eve-teasing,” which is a colloquial term for the harassment of women. Eve-teasing includes any form of sexual harassment or assault, including verbal abuse, stalking, and physical assault. The term ‘Eve teasing’ is derived from the biblical story of Adam and Eve, where Eve was said to be the one who tempted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a common problem in India, and it affects women of all ages, backgrounds, and social classes. Women in the workplace are often vulnerable to sexual harassment because they are dependent on their employers for their livelihoods. Many women who are subject to sexual harassment do not report it because they are afraid of losing their jobs or facing retaliation from their employers.

Rape is a heinous crime, and India has witnessed a significant increase in rape cases in recent years. Rape is a crime that violates the victim’s bodily integrity, privacy, and dignity. The Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure both govern rape laws in India. Rape is defined as any non-consensual sexual intercourse with a woman. The punishment for rape varies depending on the gravity of the offense. In cases of non-aggravated rape, the punishment can range from seven years to life imprisonment, along with a monetary fine. In cases of aggravated rape, the punishment can be life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Legal Aspects of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment

The legal definition of sexual harassment in India is provided under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013. The law applies to all workplaces in India, including government and private organizations. The act includes a wide range of actions that can be considered sexual harassment, including unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

The act mandates the establishment of Internal Complaints Committees[1] (ICC) at workplaces, creating awareness about sexual harassment, and providing a mechanism for the redressal of complaints. The act protects women against retaliation by their employers or colleagues for reporting incidents of sexual harassment.

Despite legal provisions, sexual harassment remains a pervasive problem in India. Sexual harassment is often not reported due to the culture of silence that surrounds it, which is a result of social and cultural norms. There is also a lack of awareness about the mechanisms available for reporting sexual harassment.

Thus, sexual harassment is a growing problem in India, particularly in the workplace. Although the law protects women, the culture of silence and lack of awareness surrounding sexual harassment often prevent victims from reporting incidents. It is important to create awareness about sexual harassment and provide mechanisms for the redressed of complaints so that victims can receive justice and can work in a safe environment.

To address this issue, the Indian government introduced the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. This Act defines sexual harassment, makes it mandatory for employers to have a prevention mechanism in place, and provides a redressal mechanism for those who have experienced sexual harassment. The Act also makes it a punishable offense and anyone guilty of sexual harassment can face a monetary fine and imprisonment.

In addition to the above, there are several other laws in India to protect women’s rights and prevent sexual violence. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, protects children under the age of 18 from sexual offenses. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, of 2006, prohibits child marriage, which is a form of sexual violence. The Domestic Violence Act, of 2005, protects women who are subjected to domestic violence, including sexual violence.

Steps Taken by Indian Government on Sexual Harassment in India

Steps Taken by Indian Government on Sexual Harassment in India.     Explanation
Mandatory Sexual Harassment Prevention Policy   The government has mandated that all organizations with more than 10 employees must have a sexual harassment prevention policy in place and make it available to their employees.  
Formation of Internal Complaints Committees (ICC)   The law requires that every workplace with more than 10 employees establishes an ICC to address complaints of sexual harassment.  
Training programs for employees   The government has made it mandatory for all employees and employers to attend regular training sessions and workshops on sexual harassment.  
Awareness campaigns   The government has launched various awareness campaigns to encourage women to speak out about sexual harassment and to educate men on the importance of preventing harassment.  
Establishment of One Stop Centres (OSC)   The Indian government has established One Stop Centres (OSC) across the country to provide support to women who have experienced sexual harassment.  
Set up of Women Helpline & Mobile app   Women can now call a dedicated helpline to report and seek help on issues related to sexual harassment. Additionally, a mobile app has also been launched by the government that offers a range of support services for victims of sexual harassment.  

Acts of Legal Protection for Women from Rape in India

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 introduced several amendments to the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and the Indian Evidence Act (IEA). The amendments aimed to widen the definition of rape and make the law gender neutral. Additionally, the Act amended the POCSO to include provisions relating to rape.

  • Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
    The Indian Government enacted this law to prevent and address the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, covering all forms of harassment and violence against women.
  • The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013
    The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, defines rape as non-consensual sexual intercourse. It expands the definition of rape to include oral and anal sex, and it does not require physical resistance to establish rape. The definition also includes the act of penetration, which has always been a contentious issue in the rape laws in India. Earlier, the law required evidence of force or coercion to establish rape. However, the 2013 Act recognizes that consent is the basis for any sexual act. It defines consent as “an unequivocal and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity”.
    The 2013 Act also introduced the concept of marital rape. It criminalises sexual intercourse by a husband with his wife if the wife is under 18 years of age and if the sexual act is against her will. This amendment is a progressive step towards gender equality and acknowledges the principle of sexual autonomy. The punishment for rape has also been made more stringent. The minimum punishment for rape is now seven years of imprisonment, which can extend to life imprisonment. The Act also introduces the death penalty for repeat offenders and in cases where the victim is a minor. The Act also provides for an enhanced sentence for gang rape and rape committed by a public servant.
    The Act also provides for the establishment of fast-track courts for the speedy trial of rape cases. It mandates that the trial be completed within two months of the accused being charged. In order to protect the victim’s privacy, the Act also mandates that a woman doctor examine the victim and that the trial take place behind closed doors.
  • The POCSO Act, 2012
    The POCSO Act of 2012 was enacted to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation. The Act defines sexual offenses against children and provides for punishment for such offenses. It also establishes special courts for the trial of offenses against children and provides for a child-friendly approach in the investigation and trial of such cases.
    The Act introduced several provisions aimed at protecting the child’s privacy and ensuring their safety during the investigation and trial. It also imposes a duty on the government to provide medical care, counselling, and rehabilitation to the victim.
    The POCSO Act also recognises the principle of ‘age of consent’. It states that any sexual activity with a child under the age of 18 is categorised as sexual abuse. The Act provides for the prosecution of any person who sexually exploits a child, including their parents or guardians.
  • The Indian Penal Code was also amended in 2013
    The Indian Penal Code was also amended in 2013, expanding the definition of rape and including various forms of sexual harassment. Because this amended law is gender-neutral, it provides protections for both men and women who are the victims of sexual harassment. The expanded definition includes unwanted physical contact, voyeurism, stalking, and other forms of harassment.
  • Constitution of India
    Prevention of sexual harassment, as defined in the Indian Constitution, includes unwanted verbal, non-verbal, and physical conduct of a sexual nature. Such behaviour creates a hostile, degrading, or intolerable environment for the victim and is prohibited under various laws and regulations. Several articles of the Indian Constitution mandate protection against sexual harassment, including Articles 14, 15, and 21.
    Thus, the Indian legal framework has put in place comprehensive legal protection against rape and other sexual offenses against women and children. However, the implementation of the law remains a major challenge. There is a need for a change in societal attitudes towards women and the establishment of effective mechanisms to ensure that the law is enforced. Until that happens, the legal protection provided will remain incomplete, and the aspirations of securing justice for victims of rape will remain a mirage.

Landmark Case Laws Related

  • Vishakha vs State of Rajasthan (1997)
    The Supreme Court of India gave guidelines to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. These guidelines were incorporated into the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013.
  • State of Maharashtra vs Madhukar Narayan Mardikar (1991)
    This case established that a woman’s evidence in cases of sexual assault and rape should be accepted unless there are substantial reasons to discredit it.
  • Delhi Domestic Working Women’s Forum vs Union of India (1995)
    The Supreme Court held that Rape laws in India need to be redefined and expanded to protect women’s dignity and autonomy.
  • Sakshi vs Union of India (2004)
    The Supreme Court directed all the states to establish sexual assault crisis centres to provide medical and legal assistance to rape victims.
  • State of Karnataka vs Krishnappa (2000)
    The Supreme Court held that the onus of proof in rape cases is on the prosecution, but the evidence of the victim can be relied upon to prove the guilt of the accused.
  • Bhanwari Devi vs State of Rajasthan (1992)
    This case paved the way for the Prevention of Atrocities against SC/ST Act which recognized rape as a tool of oppression against Dalit women.
  • Medha Kotwal Lele vs Union of India (2013)
    The Bombay High Court held that non-consensual sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, even if done forcefully or against her wishes, is not rape.
  • Lillu vs State of Haryana (2013)
    The Supreme Court held that under section 376 (2) (g) of the Indian Penal Code, rape can be committed by a member of the armed forces deployed in an area under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958.

Conclusion

In conclusion, sexual harassment and rape are grave issues in India that violate the victim’s rights and dignity. Although several rape laws in India have been implemented to prevent sexual violence, it continues to be a concern in the country. It is necessary to spread awareness about gender equality and to sensitise individuals towards the issue of sexual violence. It is also important to ensure strict implementation of the rape laws in India and a speedy justice system to help victims.

Read Our Article: Preventing And Responding To Sexual Harassment

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