Thursday, April 10, 2014

Directives for men: The Sexual Harrassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013

At the outset, I would like to thank the women who agreed to deliberate with me on the various issues (in person and over the phone), with respect to the professional and social interactions between two different genders are concerned. I would also like to thank, Ms Archana Gondhalekar, whose speeches I listened to, two times.

I would like to clarify here that the word gender used in this article are limited to "Male" and "Female" only, although the terminology, as on date, has been extended to include LGBT also. It is also worth mentioning here that this article has been written with Indian people in mind, therefore the international audience might find some terms incomprehensible.

This article deliberates on the various implications of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, and the corresponding rules, for men. Why was this act needed? In the society, mostly the rules are drawn out for people who do not "fit" to an acceptable social norm.

The history of this act, goes back to the days when an Angan Vadi worker, Smt. Bhawari Devi dared to protest against child marriage. Child marriage, at that point of time had been declared illegal, and therefore Bhanwari Devi had done nothing wrong. Some of the villagers aged from 20 to 70, perhaps with a feeling of malice, or with a motive to "set her right", gangraped her. As expected this lead to litigations, formations of sexual harassment guidelines and lately the creation of a parliamentary act in 2013.

Directives for men on the various aspects of sexual harassment in the purview of the act 

Unwelcome advances and physical contact 

One of the many points mentioned in this act is about "Unwelcome advances". Men might wonder on this point. How does an individual decide, what is welcome and what is unwelcome? Consider this example. You are enjoying a warm cosy evening with your family, while there is a knock on the door. The "guest" is someone whom you do not like. Even if your background or previous generation has taught you, "Atithi Devo Bhavah" (The guest is divine), you might have to politely ask the person to leave your house. Arguing similarly therefore, the woman (your colleague) would tell you what she "likes" and what she doesn't.

The dress and the seduction 

When it comes to sex, sexuality, and expression of sexuality, men happen to think in binary. If I were to quote many feminists, I would write "Men live with their brains between their legs". When it comes to women, their expressions are two fold. First comes attraction, and then comes seduction. Therefore, if a woman is wearing an amply revealing dress, it does not imply "Come and have sex with me!". Instead, it means "Look at me! I am beautiful!". Stop misinterpreting the dress as a gateway for sex or sexual advances.

She hugs other boys, so she should not mind if I hug her! 

No! At the workplace, hugging is completely inadvisable! In my opinion, hugging is an act of intimacy, whether it be a "feeling" of father-daughter, or "boyfriend-girlfriend" or "brother-sister" or "teacher-student". Keep all your hugs, caresses, touches at home, while you leave for the office.

Also, "she hugs other boys, so she should mind if I hug her" sounds illogical and similar to "She has sex with her boyfriend, she should also have sex with me!". A woman has the right to chose, who she loves, who she marries and with whom she has intimate relations and moments with. In no way, can a man dictate that.

Can I touch her hand? 

It is worth mentioning here that women rely on their sixth instinct to distinguish between touches. Therefore, you can touch her hand only if you seek her permission first. If she refuses, stay away. In the best case, avoid any thought of touching the hand, or any other part of the body. In my opinion, in the light of this act, it is advisable that women be greeted either with a courteous bow, or with a polite Namaste. All that nonsense about "professional behaviour requires shaking hands" can go for a toss.

Verbal conducts of sexual nature 

The act mentions "Sexually coloured remarks" which might confuse men too! Many men are habitual of vomiting adult jokes at the slightest provocation. Many also use double meaning. Men, therefore are confused when women make sexually coloured remarks either on themselves or about some other people in the public. In such cases, it is advisable to stay away from controversy.

No double meanings which might lead to misinterpretation or malicious use of "setting you right". Whatever, the case may be, however hard a woman might try to get some double meaning out of you directly or indirectly, keep your tongue in control.

Non-verbal conduct of sexual nature 

Staring at women 

Men are confused about the staring clause popularly used by women, owing to the following different reasons:
  1. It is natural for a man to look at a woman irrespective of his marital status. So, how can one avoid looking? 
  2. Men have the habit of staring into empty space with a thoughtless mind. They might keep on staring into the empty space for hours together (this video from the Canadian comedian Russell Peters tells us a lot). Can this be misconstrued? 

In my opinion, the act relies on the sixth instinct of women. As per the women I have conversed with, a woman would know, if a man is looking at her in the "wrong way". However, men are advised that the "sixth instinct" or the "gut feeling" may misfire in some cases. However, women are also usually watchful about the event occurring repeatedly over time. Therefore, do not keep looking at a woman for more than 5 seconds, when you are not talking to her.

Showing pornography or asking for sexual favours 

Seriously? Are you a nymphomaniac / pervert? It is a serious NO! However, "close" you might feel, the woman is to you, in no way should such acts be committed!

Is this act necessary? 

Yes! It has been observed that women have been subject to continuous harassment in the society. With time, these events are on the rise. It is therefore fair enough, that women are given a platform, a strong one at that, to voice their views and raise objections, against certain age old practices.

Is this act biased towards women? 

 No! The preamble of the Honorable Indian constitution and the Honorable Indian constitution itself, rule out any gender bias amongst the citizens of the country. Therefore, in this country, no law can be founded that is biased. In the context of this article, refer to clause number 10, in the rules document, where it says that complaints with proven malicious intent shall be dealt with the same severity as those mentioned in clause number 09.

How do I certify my integrity? 

The former Director of IIT Kanpur, Prof. S. G. Dhande, had repeatedly said during many orientation programmes for the new students that "You should have your certificate of integrity in your pocket". It is a shame that honorable men, or men with their integrities in place would have to resort electronic devices to certify their integrity in the light of this act (malicious intents cannot be ruled out).
  1. In this context, make sure that your workstation / workplace has a camera / CCTV mounted, and that the video feeds have sufficient backup. Also make sure that you have enough space to move away if any unwelcome advance is made upon you. 
  2. Always prefer a working place, where there is a fellow worker or workers watching you (for most of the time), inspite of your innate quest for privacy even at the workplace. 

Your relations with colleagues (male or female) 

Workers who work day in and day out for generating good academic records, peer-reviewed publications, patents and have their names mentioned in the annual reports of the organisation they are working for, need to take special care. The risk of jealous colleagues thinking of "setting them right" is high.

Further, as far as my conversions with overtly performing colleagues go, people in India, inspite of the Honorable Indian constitution in their hand, have not learned to respect others' rights to their own opinions. It is quite possible that jealous colleagues (male or female) might feel that the best way to stop you from performing (to set you right) is to allege sexual harassment against you.

On the positive side, protection exists in the form of rule 10, although, on the flip side, it would be best to avoid crossing swords with anybody.

How to begin a conversation with a female colleague?

Frame the question well in your mind. If unsure, write it down on a piece of paper. Make sure that there is no double meaning, vulgarity, white or dark sarcasm in the question. Do not sneak up to the woman from her behind (in case she is sitting with her back towards you). Call her politely and ask if she has time for a question. If she says yes, proceed with the question. If she replies in the negative, just walk back to your seat and do not insist. If she is interested, in what you were saying, she would ask you later. If she does not, you should get the hint. 

What to do if I find a female colleague staring at me? 

Just as males find it sensually pleasing to stare at women, women too, once in a while, like to feast their eyes. However, this is NOT at all an invitation for physical proximity or activity. She might be a spy for someone, and might be keeping an eye on you, as well.

In summary

The infamous Canadian actress Sunny Leone sums it up well in this video, where she complains about a co-contestant wrongly "touching her". To paraphrase the conversation, "When a woman says NO, it means NO. It does not mean YES, and it doesn't mean MAYBE!"


  1. The Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013; Last accessed April 10, 2014. 
  2. The Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act - Rules, 2013, Last accessed April 10, 2014. 
  3. Constitution of India (2008), Last accessed April 10, 2014. 
  4. Russel Peters: Women are thinkers, Last accessed April 10, 2014. 
  5.  Sunny Leone complains against Amar Upadhyay, Last accessed April 10, 2014.