Is character important in deciding a sexual harassment complaint? Is a woman supposed to be blamed if a man makes advances towards her? Should dressing up in western clothes be considered to be provocative dressing?
In several cases, not just the alleged harasser but also the internal complaints committee (ICC) members raise a question (and perhaps even base their decision) on ‘promiscuous character’ or ‘open sexual attitude’. Perhaps they fail to take note of the fact that ‘promiscuous character’ of a woman or being ‘habitual to sex’ is irrelevant even in rape cases and a rapist cannot take the woman’s character as a ground of defence (as held in the case of Narender Kumar vs. State (NCT of Delhi), 2012 (4) SCC 59). Since past several years the Supreme Court of India has held that even a female of easy virtue has a right to life (Lillu @ Rajesh and Anr. vs. State of Haryana, AIR 2013 SC 1784). The lifestyle that a woman chooses for herself is her decision and irrespective of what her lifestyle may be, she still has the right to refuse advances by a person, she does not want to be associated with.
No man, let alone a colleague – a fellow employee or boss, can use her lifestyle as an excuse to sexually harass her in any manner or use her character as his license to assault and use her as an object without any rights. One has to understand that sexual violence is not only an unlawful invasion of the right of privacy and sanctity of a woman but also a serious blow to her honour. It leaves a traumatic and humiliating impression on her conscience offending her self-esteem and dignity (Pushpanjali Sahu vs. State of Orissa & Anr., 2012 (9) Scale 441). Hence, one has to realize that sexual harassment is illegal and character of the victim has got nothing to do with it. Ideally, evidence of the victim of sexual assault is enough for conviction and it does not require any corroboration unless there are compelling reasons for seeking it (Vijay @ Chinee vs. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2010 (8) SCC 191). Therefore, as long as a woman is able to produce sufficient evidence of sexual harassment, her character should not have any impact on decision making.
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– Adv. Shivangi Prasad – Corporate Lawyer, External Member & Trainer, Head – Legal & Compliance, Partner POSH at Work