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All you need to know about the Legal Implications Of The #MeToo Movement 

The recent spate of allegations of sexual harassment by several women across professions against their male counterparts has sparked debate in the society regarding the need for their safety against sexual harassment. This has also triggered off the #MeToo Movement in India. However, it has evoked varied responses, with sections of society oscillating between support to the females as well as in support of the men. Hence, it becomes imperative to understand the law for both the victim of harassment as well as the accused.

The criminal justice system in India is hinged on the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, a concept often misused by offenders to hide behind the lethargic rigours of litigation in India. Though criticised, it remains the foundation of criminal law in the country, especially with a view to differentiate between genuine and frivolous complaints.

Until recently, offences related to sexual harassment of women fell under the archaic provisions of the colonial Indian penal code (IPC) which restricted such cases to the general definition of ‘Assault’, ‘Outraging the Modesty of Women’ and in severe cases of harassment, ‘Rape.’ However, in 2013, the Indian legislature, in due recognition of the rights of a woman, enacted a law for protection of women against sexual harassment at the workplace (on the basis of the Vishakha guidelines framed by the Supreme Court many years earlier in 1997) through ‘The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act’ (POSH). 

Though belated, it was a result of several violent sexual crimes against women and sought to herald a new era in which women are more secure at their place of work. POSH defines sexual harassment to mean unwelcome acts or behaviour towards a woman and includes physical contact and advances; a demand or request for sexual favours; making sexually coloured remarks; showing pornography and any other physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature. The definition of ‘workplace’ is wide and covers public and private sector enterprises as well as domestic households in which a woman may be employed.

Under POSH, an aggrieved woman is required to make a written complaint alleging sexual harassment at her workplace within three months from the date of the incident. This complaint is to be addressed to the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) set up by the organisation to inquire into the merits of the allegation/s. If the ICC finds substance in the allegations, it is required to forward the complaint to the police for action under criminal law. Moreover, POSH specifies a time period of 90 days to complete such inquiry. The ICC is also empowered to grant compensation to the harassed woman.

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