Kit Kupar War
In light of the recent spate of sexual assault cases being reported in many parts of India including Meghalaya, there is an urgent need to address this difficult issue. A very old problem in our country is the conduct of sexual environment which is highly unwanted and at the same time humiliating. This problem has persisted in our country for years. This kind of behaviour does not have a particular term to it as the victims of this behaviour who have made some of their grievances are recognized to have mostly been unheeded or hushed. As for the term “Sexual Harassment” known to people, it came to limelight only in the 1970’s. This matter is a global issue in all the cultures of the world as evidenced in several United Nations reports as well as other international and national human rights agencies. The International Labor Organization (ILO) reports that Sexual Harassment is an absolutely clear means of Sexual Discrimination which is purely on the basis of gender, which also includes unequal powers given to men and women (Sexual harassment at work: National and international responses, Conditions of Work and Employment Series No. 2, 2005).
T. M. Glomb and his associates in an article published on the journal ‘Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes’ in 1997 explains that sexual harassment cannot be deliberated as a private concern and a matter that only distresses women but that it is a matter of human resource management, human rights issues and labour rights. Harassment leads to a wide-ranging array of concerns ranging from economic to social, to psychological and physical problems. Therefore, it is essential to take certain actions to remove this brutal injustice being meted out against women. From a broader viewpoint, harassment serves as a critical obstacle to women’s contribution in the market. Logically, it also impedes the execution of gender parity and financial growth. In an article of IndiaSpend online magazine, Chachra showed through an analysis of available data and conversations with working women in India that there was an increase in reported cases of harassment in 2015, the year for which the latest data are available. The data for these reports were compiled from different sources including annual reports of the National Crime Records Bureau, the National Commission for Women and the Indian Bar Association. Between 2014 and 2015, cases of sexual harassment within office premises more than doubled–from 57 to 119–according to National Crime Records Bureau data of 2015. The study also states that there has been a 51% rise in sexual harassment cases at other places related to work–from 469 in 2014 to 714 in 2015. The same IndiaSpend analysis reported that 40% of IT and 50% of advertisement and media companies are oblivious to laws related to sexual harassment. This indeed is a source of concern for this continued rise in the unsafe environment in the workplaces all over India.
In an online survey conducted by The Times of India on December of 2012, it was revealed that almost 70% of the female respondents reported to have been victims of lewd comments or songs from groups of men, however, stalking was reported by just 8% of the women surveyed. About a quarter of them had been groped or molested by men and alarmingly over 90% of these reported incidents, people around did not respond to help these women. An overwhelming majority of women (90%) who experience sexual harassment do not register a police complaint. Majority of them refrain from making complaints as they do not think it would serve any purpose revealing abysmal faith in law enforcement agencies.
Meghalaya, one of the states in North east India, as has been mentioned, has a high rate of crime against women where there were a total of 1563 reported crimes against women extending from rape to human trafficking cases (Crime Disposal Women, 2014) and if the situation is as similar to the national scenario, where women are unwilling to report cases of sexual harassment, the picture in this state should not be completely different when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace. Being a closed knit community, it is assumed that many Khasi women who face different types of sexual harassment, including the work place, might not report these cases to the police for fear of shame and public humiliation.
In Meghalaya, the private sector is mainly located in and around Shillong and they employ around thousands of women. There is a lack of empirical studies which measures the working conditions and how it is related to the concept of sexual harassment and coping behaviours of the victims in the private sector of Meghalaya.
A small research was recently conducted with the aim of analyzing the nature and frequency of sexual harassment experienced by the victim, organizational mechanisms to deal with sexual harassment, and consequences of sexual harassment on the victim-vocational, psychological, interpersonal and physical strain, the strategies (whether external or internal coping strategies) used by the victim to cope with sexual harassment and develop a training manual based on the findings of the study to help victims effectively deal with sexual harassment at workplace. The study adopted a descriptive and quantitative research design and data was collected from a sample of 60 female respondents (private sector employees) through structured interview method using structured, close ended, standardized interview schedules.
Findings from this study reveal that there was low frequency (18%) of the prevalence of sexual harassment among the Khasi female employees interviewed for the research study out of which only 3% reported to have been personally sexually harassed while the rest 15% were witnesses of such harassment taking place. All the victims were below the age of 30 years of age at the time of the incident. The majority of the victims did not report such incidences to the grievance cells even though they knew of the availability of such services for them. The victims have employed varying coping strategies where different reactions were reported, such as anger (55%), confusion (27%) and many confronted (55%) their harassers and 27% ignored such incidences.
The study highlighted a number of important aspects relating to the prevalence of sexual harassment in the private sector and the coping strategies of the victims of sexual harassment. The findings of the study are broadly highlighted below:
i. The percentage of sexual harassment is reported to be low but out of the reported cases, the majority was witnessed by others. Further, the study found that the majority of victims were harassed by males and were of the age group 20-25 years.
ii. The majority of the victims reported that their initial reaction was that of anger and were not afraid to confront their harassers. The victims were also not afraid to share their experiences with others including colleagues and friends. However, these cases were not reported to the grievance cells, hence, no further action was taken against the harassers.
The findings of the study seem to indicate that there were fewer cases of sexual harassment in the private sector as opposed to the reports from the rest of India. However, the concerning issue that came out of this research was the amount of cases were the female respondents were unsure as to what sexual harassment entails. Many of these workers do not seem to know or were provided information of laws like the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. If the female workers are still confused on what sexual harassment is, then it makes it difficult for them to actually report such cases even if they have experienced it. There is still a lot to be explored and done so as to continue the urgent and important work of making sure all workers in the private sector, both male and female workers included, are aware of their rights and laws that have been made to provide a safe working environment for them.
On the basis of the findings of the study, the following are the recommendations.
i. The need to approach Non-Governmental Organisations and pressure groups to push government agencies and departments concerned with the welfare of women, to encourage corporates and other private businesses to strictly adhere to the guidelines provided in the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 to protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace.
ii. The need to approach the government to make it compulsory for corporates and other private businesses to sensitize their workers on what constitutes sexual harassment. Prevention is the primary intervention strategy, therefore, awareness generation activities can be used by the employers to discourage employees from indulging in sexual harassment.
iii. From the perspective of educational implications, sexual harassment as a concept and as a social issue needs to be included as part of counselling and psychology curriculum. It needs to be analysed from a socio cultural perspective, psychological perspective as well as from a legal perspective.
The author is a M. Sc. Counselling Psychology and Master of Divinity degree holder