Sexual harassment complainants treated insensitively

MADURAI: The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court observed that women in workplaces or girls in educational institutions who report instances of sexual harassment were either treated without due sensitivity or subject to secondary victimisation.

Justice RN Manjula said colleagues or peers who supported the complainants were being treated with a vengeance by insensitive or perverse superiors. The perpetrator and superiors join hands and commit acts amounting to secondary sexual harassment, which defeats the objectives of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2023. It would also be counter-productive to the interest of the working class, irrespective of their sex, and a lack of harmony between male and female workers would spoil work environment, the judge said.

The court was hearing a petition filed by Supraja, an assistant medical officer/ in charge residence medical officer of the Government Ayurveda Medical College and Hospital in Nagercoil of Kanniyakumari district against her suspension order, issued by the principal of the college. The principal has taken sides with a medical officer and a staff, against whom sexual abuse allegations have been made by students and a female medical officer. Another doctor who insisted on action against the accused was placed under suspension.

The petitioner alleged that the principal had been causing unnecessary trouble. During the proceedings, the court learned that the suspension order of the petitioner was revoked at a later date. Meanwhile, the medical officer accused of sexual harassment filed a petition before the court, seeking a committee to inquire into the allegations, and the court sought a status report.

The court said a fair appraisal is needed as to whether the mandates of the special legislation have been followed in all workplaces, and whether there are hurdles in achieving its objectives. The court, suo motu, impleaded the secretary of the Social Welfare and Women Empowerment Department, secretary of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, chairperson of the State Women Commission and chairperson of the National Commission for Women, and issued notices to them. The matter was adjourned to July 15.

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