- Apprentice Lawyer
The Delhi High Court has held that the credibility of a woman alleging sexual harassment at workplace is not diminished because of pending disciplinary proceedings against her. (Ms X vs UOI)
The Court has further held that the absence of eyewitnesses also cannot take away the credibility of the complainant.
"..the high standard of proof required in criminal trials is not called for during an inquiry by the Internal Complaints Committee under the Act. It must always be borne in mind, that a woman who is perturbed by an action of a male colleague, either through words, gestures or action, cannot be expected to have such clarity of thought, to know who all were present at the time of the incident, and who all may have witnessed the incident and remember their names and faces..", the Court has opined.
Clarifying that the complainant’s statement is to be considered independently to determine whether it has a ring of truth or not, the Court remarked,
“..the Internal Complaints Committee is intended as a platform to provide an environment of confidence to the complainant.. It is to believe her and not compel her to name witnesses to seek corroboration, as has happened in the instant case…the perpetrator seeks out his target without putting himself in danger of being caught and preserving a “your word against mine” situation, which the woman would possibly find difficult to surmount before an inquiry committee.”
A judgement to this effect was passed by a Division Bench of Justices Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Asha Menon while dealing with an appeal against an order passed by a Single Judge Bench.
The Single Judge had imposed costs of Rs. 50,000 on the Appellant/complainant after concluding that the sexual harassment complaint made by her against a fellow employee (accused) was false.
Before the Single Judge, the Appellant had challenged the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)'s order holding inter alia that the sexual harassment allegations could not be established during the inquiry.
In view of the records placed before it, the Court observed that the Single Judge could not have entered into a "re-appraisal of the evidence" when the statements made before the Complaints Committee "clearly established" that the accused had been misbehaving by making statements with sexual overtones.
While the Court agreed to set aside the costs of Rs 50,000 and the direction for initiation of disciplinary proceedings against the Appellant, it did not deem it appropriate to direct an independent departmental inquiry against the accused on account of his retirement.
Before parting, the Court nonetheless recorded certain pertinent observations on sexual harassment at the workplace and "gender conditioning" of men.
Acknowledging women as valuable human resource, the Court remarked,
"Gender conditioning where the man develops a superiority complex, while the woman doubts her own capacity, starts very early in life. It need not be in the form of a tutorial, but certainly as subtle data to the minds of young children, about their privileges or lack of it. The privileges also come in the opportunities to develop personality, confidence, intelligence and skills.
It is gender conditioning that leads men to abuse, ill-treat or become violent towards women or treat them disparagingly and with condescension, the Court added.
The Court further opined that there was a need to not only comply with the POSH Act but also understand how a sexually harassed woman felt.
"Gender sensitivity also requires an understanding of what a woman feels when she is sexually harassed. Though stereo-typing is itself unwarranted, it has been noticed that just as in other sexual offences, she goes through a lot of soul-searching (again due to gender-conditioning), she tries to adopt measures of selfprotection, by avoiding the perpetrator, may be even by taking leave! ..That is why the Internal Complaints Committee has to be set up in every workplace and every woman employee be informed as to the person she can contact in the Internal Complaints Committee when faced with any unsavoury or unacceptable conduct by a male colleague."
Stressing on the need to senstize all employees, the Court said that all must always remain "acutely aware" of the dignity of the female employees.
A strong redressal system in the organization would also protect the male workforce and officials from vexatious complaints, the Court added.
Advocate Kamna Vohra appeared for the Appellant.
Advocate Anil Dabas appeared for Centre. Advocate Yakesh Anand appeared for the employer.
Read the judgement: