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Tarun Tejpal case judgment and workplace safety of women

Context:

  • The Goa Government has filed an appeal in the High Court against the judgment of the Additional Sessions Judge acquitting a former editor of a news magazine, Tarun Tejpal, of charges of the rape of an employee in November 2013.
  • Tarun Tejpal was tried under sections introduced into the law after the Nirbhaya case, including one denoting that he was in a position of power, authority and trust over the young woman concerned.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice (Issues Related to women, Government Interventions and Policies, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of Government Policies), GS-II: Polity and Governance (Important Judgements)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the recent Tejpal case and Judgement
  2. Status of women safety in India
  3. Challenges Faced by working women
  4. Vishaka Guidelines against Sexual Harassment at Workplace
  5. Indian Evidence Act
  6. Way Forward

About the recent Tejpal case and Judgement

  • The judgment says “(Prosecutrix) neither demonstrates any kind of normative behaviour on her own part – that as a prosecutrix of sexual assault might plausibly show”.
  • The alleged offence of rape happened in a lift, however, there is no medical evidence as the investigation started about two weeks after the incident. There are no witnesses to the actual alleged crime.
  • Quite simply, it is the word of the complainant against that of the accused – and the judgment was based on past sexual history of the complainant, unfettered access to her WhatsApp chat and a key inconsistency with the complainant’s failure to mention meeting/relationship with someone amongst other inconsistencies.
  • At the outset, Section 53A of the Indian Evidence Act bars the defence from referring to the past sexual conduct or history of the victim unless it has a direct bearing on the case, especially in trials pertaining to sexual assault.
  • This pushes us back to 1979 when a rape survivor had to prove through physical marks on her body that she had not consented. In this 2021 judgment, in a similar approach, since the survivor did not fit into the court’s preconceived ideas of a rape survivor’s behaviour, she is considered a liar.

Violation of laws, of privacy

  • To this end, in total violation of various laws, the full personal details of the survivor, her name and that of her family, her WhatsApp messages, her personal mails, her photographs and her relationships are laid out bare in the judgment in the most ferocious aggression on her right to privacy and which have no relevance to the charge of rape.
  • The judgment defends this stating “some of the messages shown were not for purpose of proving immoral character or consent but to prove suppressing of relevant facts by the prosecutrix”.

This judgement is seen by many activists as one which sets a bad precedent for future trials which might transform the accused into the victim and the victim into the accused.

Status of women safety in India

  • Women safety involves various dimensions such as Sexual harassment at workplace, rape, marital rape, dowry, acid attack etc.
  • The United Nation’s ‘Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces’ programme, which started in 2010, recognized that cities all around the world were becoming unsafe for women.
  • The latest NCRB data for the year 2016 shows that Overall crimes against women have risen by just about 3%, whereas incidents of rape have gone up by 12%.
  • Majority of cases categorized as crimes against women were reported under ‘Cruelty by husband or his relatives’ (32.6%). This draws a bleak picture of women safety in private places or home.

Challenges Faced by working women

  • Legal Restriction: According to a study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), almost 90% of the 143 economies have at least one important, gender-based legal restriction.
  • Patriarchal attitudes: From NSSO data of 2011, it was found that women from higher castes and higher income families spent less time working outside the house.
  • According to the 2012 “Gender Pay Gap in the Formal Sector” report, pay gap increases with women’s age, work experience, educational qualifications and rise in occupational hierarchy.
  • Biased human capital model in country which focuses on gender differences in skills, education and experience.
  • Workplace insecurity: The rate of crimes against women in India stands at 53.9%
  • Other challenges: Lack of attractive job alternatives and income security, inadequate travel and transport facilities, Societal perception of women who work long hours, lack of crèches facility at workplace etc.

Vishaka Guidelines against Sexual Harassment at Workplace:

  • All employers or persons in charge of work place whether in public or private sector should take appropriate steps to prevent sexual harassment. Without prejudice to the generality of this obligation they should take the following steps:
  • Express prohibition of sexual harassment as defined above at the work place should be notified, published and circulated in appropriate ways.
  • The Rules/Regulations of Government and Public Sector bodies relating to conduct and discipline should include rules/regulations prohibiting sexual harassment and provide for appropriate penalties in such rules against the offender.
  • As regards private employers, steps should be taken to include the aforesaid prohibitions in the standing orders under the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946.
  • Appropriate work conditions should be provided in respect of work, leisure, health and hygiene to further ensure that there is no hostile environment towards women at work places and no employee woman should have reasonable grounds to believe that she is disadvantaged in connection with her employment.

Indian Evidence Act

  • The Indian Evidence Act, originally passed in India by the Imperial Legislative Council in 1872, during the British Raj, contains a set of rules and allied issues governing admissibility of evidence in the Indian courts of law.
  • Until then, the rules of evidences were based on the traditional legal systems of different social groups and communities of India and were different for different people depending on caste, community, faith and social position. The Indian Evidence Act introduced a standard set of law applicable to all Indians.
  • When India gained independence on 15 August 1947, the Act continued to be in force throughout the Republic of India and Pakistan, except the state of Jammu and Kashmir. (Then, the Act continues in force in India, but it was repealed in Pakistan in 1984).

Way Forward

  • Formalization of Workforce to create better job opportunities for women and streamlining labour laws.
  • Skill Development: Vocational and technical training, life skills and financial literacy programmes for women to help them develop marketable skills and better decision-making abilities.
  • Mandating parental leave rather than maternal leave will help women to reintegrate into the workforce after childbearing and allowing men to take on the responsibility of parenthood.
  • Step by Companies: Corporate India need to step up and implement pragmatic policies to bridge the pay gap, change employee perception of a healthy work culture and foster equal opportunities.

-Source: The Hindu

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