The fourth in the series of Legal Roundtables was organised by Safecity and SheThePeople.tv at Government Law College, Mumbai on 28 September 2017. The panel comprised of Ashwini Syed, Head of HR and Operations at Safecity (Red For Foundation), Pooja Shah, professor of Art and Humanities and JNU academic, and Advocate Nausheen Yousuf, women’s rights activist at Majlis. The discussion was moderated by Professor Kishu Daswani, who has over 25 years of teaching experience in the field of law, dispute resolution, and public policy, in colleges across Mumbai, as well as in Spain, Hong Kong, and Australia. The roundtable was attended by 90+ people.
The discussion centered around sexual harassment at the workplace, and the legal remedies available for redressal. The panelists began by breaking down the law, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The panel explored the law and its loopholes. A discussion followed, about the idea of a gender-specific law, and the concept of consent was discussed in light of two recent judgments by the Indian courts in the Peepli and Jindal rape cases.
The panel recognised that a discussion on sexuality, sexism, and gender based violence must take place in the context of academic institutions, internship and workplace environment, and Indian society. Since this event was organised at a law school, the panel also focused on how a lawyer might advise clients in cases of sexual violence.
The panel took the discussion beyond its mandate of informing students about the law, and called for everyone to be alert to instances of sexual violence. Casual sexism will continue to grow if as women, we do not own our place in society. For us to speak up, we must create safe spaces where we can talk freely. Sexual harassment must cease to be a taboo. Freedom of expression will give women the strength to approach legal authorities for recourse, something which is most often avoided due to the stigma attached. Empathy and emotional support are as much a part of the rehabilitation process as legal recourse.
A common thread ran through the entire discussion — that wherever she is, in whatever environment, it is important for women to speak up.
Some of thesolutions that emerged at the Legal Roundtable are:
1.Get expert advice. As a counsel, before taking action, ask the client to speak with a counselor to identify and confirmed whether what she faced was sexual harassment.
2.Speak up. Use social media to have discussions about sexism and share experiences of harassment.
3.More workshops in corporates to create awareness, especially amongst male co-workers.
All academic institutions to constitute an ICC.
4.Sensitise police officers and law enforcement officials, train them to deal with such cases.
5.Don’t be afraid to be a part of a movement. We need a movement for equality.
6.Develop listening skills and take note of body language of a person you are interacting with. This is useful for those on ICC panels as well, to identify the reality of the case.
7.There are confidentiality clauses in the POSH Act which allows concealment of identity of the accused, in cases of false reporting or misrepresentations.
8.A centralised computer system for ICC cases (for better coordination between the ICCs across the city)