Almost four years have passed since India’s law against sexual harassment of women in the workplace came into force. Vandana Chatlani speaks to corporate counsel about compliance, challenges and cultural curveballs.
It took India’s parliament 15 years to enact the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (Sexual Harassment Act), following a landmark ruling from the Supreme Court of India.
In Vishaka and others v State of Rajasthan (1997), the Supreme Court stated that existing civil and penal laws in India did not adequately protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace and that employers needed to prevent and deter such acts. The court called for the setting up of internal complaints committees (ICCs) to redress grievances relating to workplace sexual harassment.
Shruti Sodhi, the founder of Word & Law, which provides general counsel services to a number of companies, says the Supreme Court judgment brought about a perceivable difference in the awareness of sexual harassment. “It’s not that companies and organizations weren’t aware, but the degree of the awareness increased,” she says. “Companies were really focused on their reputation. Everybody was talking about it, everyone wanted to have the necessary committees with the right composition, the right kind of people, etc. That was a marked shift from how these committees existed or were functioning earlier.”
Badrinath Durvasula, senior vice president at Adani Group, says companies such as Adani, Hindustan Unilever, ITC and Larsen & Toubro, his previous employer, have worked hard to spread the message of appropriate workplace conduct and to strengthen their internal complaints machinery. “These groups have been very active in propagating the anti-harassment message and it has definitely percolated down,” he says.