Delhi High Court on Thursday held that the absence of eyewitness in sexual harassment cases in the workplace do not decrease the credibility of such a complaint.
In the case of Ms. X v. Union of India, before the case was moved up to Delhi High Court, a single-judge bench had imposed a fine of Rs. 50,000/- on the petitioner after deriving the conclusion that the Sexual Harassment Complaint filed by her was false.
The petitioner challenged the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)’s order, before the Single Judge bench, holding inter alia that the charges against the accused could not be proved by the appellant during the inquiry.
A Division Bench of J Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and J. Asha Menon was set up at the Delhi High Court for dealing with the appeal placed against the order passed by a Single Judge Bench earlier this month.
The court, while observing the facts of the case, stated that it was clearly established that the accused had been misbehaving with the petitioner by making inappropriate comments with sexual undertones, hence, the Single Judge could not have entered into a “re-appraisal”.
The Divisional bench agreed to set aside the fine of amount Rs. 50,000/- by the Single Judge and agreed that conducting an independent inquiry against the accused was not appropriate enough, on the account of his retirement. The court also directed the initiation of Disciplinary Proceeding against the Appellant.
The court also recorded a few observations relating to sexual harassment in the workplace and noted “gender conditioning” of men.
The court, while acknowledging women as a valuable resource, 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 impossible not to notice all around us, how easily the “common woman” is put down by the “common man”. Less said the better of what happens to the Third Gender!”
While stressing the need to sensitize the employees, the court also said that everyone should remain aware of the dignity of the female employees.
While clarifying that the appellant’s statement is supposed to be considered independently in order to figure out if the complaint is a false complaint 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.”
And further clarified that an absence of eyewitness does not, in any way, takes away the credibility of a sexual harassment complaint in the workplace. And further added that a strong and proper redressal system, to deal with such complaints, would also protect the male workforce and officials from false accusations and complaints against them.
Advocate Kamna Vohra appeared on behalf of the appellant while Advocate Anil Dabas appeared for the Centre and Advocate Takesh Anand appeared for the employer.
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