A recent survey conducted by a non-governmental organisation reveals that 68.9% of sexual harassment incidents at workplace go unreported, says a news report. The survey which was aimed “to understand the severity and present status of sexual harassment at workplaces in India”, quantifies some of the worst assumptions regarding sexual harassment in offices.
The survey collected responses from 6,047 employees from varied sectors like BPOs, IT sector, healthcare, legal and educational institutions, spread across the cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Jalandhar, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, and Lucknow. 78% of the respondents were women, whereas 22% of them were men.
The survey found that 68.9% of the victims who endured sexual harassment at workplace did not complain about the same due to factors like fear, embarrassment, lack of confidence in complaint mechanism, unawareness, or the stigma attached to the issue.
A majority of the respondents who admitted to being harassed also blamed “fear or retaliation, subsequent repercussions and sympathy with the offender due to past mutual understanding” as reasons to not step forth and report the same. The number is worryingly high for a country that is trying to remedy the situation, and ensure legal provisions and framework to redress issues of sexual harassment.
Furthermore, the survey also claims that 65.2% of the organisations did not follow the due process mandatory under the law to redress the complaints. Other findings of the study show that of the people who admitted to being sexually harassed, 37.8% said they were harassed at workplace, 22.2% said that it happened in school or college, and 40% said it happened at other places. However, 93.5% of all the respondents were of the view that sexual harassment occurs at offices, schools and colleges.
Zameer Nathani , Honorary National Secretary, Indian National Bar Association, the organisation that conducted the survey, said, "We found that women are sexually harassed by lewd comments, asking for sexual favours, touching inappropriately, eve teasing etc. The act has clearly defined the rights of women and the complaint mechanism to be at the workplace. Once there is awareness regarding the same, we would find the cases of sexual harassment dealt in a better way and slowly stop them.”
The survey mirrors the several others that have been conducted in the past, and is more evidence of the fact that Indian organisations need to go a long way to protect their employees from sexual harassment. The understanding, that ensuring compliance with the law on paper is no longer enough, needs to permeate into organisational priorities and needs to happen quickly, in order to witness actionable development. For example, merely setting up a committee to address such complaints (as is mandatory under the law) is not enough, but ensuring that the committee successfully provides a safe space for such complains to emerge, and that there is confidence and faith in the committee, needs to be on the agenda. Furthermore, factors like fear, unawareness or the stigma attached to the issue are not issues of legal nature, but need as much urgent attention.
What is undeniable is that the extent of sexual harassment in offices is much more than official estimates may ever suggest. Undoubtedly, brining out a solution that is effective and inclusive will be a challenge, but if Indian organisations are serious about eradicating sexual harassment from workplaces, in addition to adopting and executing the law in spirit, they will have to come up with a mechanism that ensures justice.