Molestation & Outraging Dignity  
 
Outraging the modesty of a woman
Any form of sexual violation that does not fall within the narrow ambit of the offence of rape falls under Sections 354 and 509 of the IPC. Even though these sections intend to protect women’s ‘modesty’, the IPC nowhere defines what constitutes ‘modesty’. Since the understanding of ‘modesty’ is moralistically constructed, the Section can get subjectively interpreted to apply to only certain kinds of women (chaste, sexually innocent/passive, etc) who can be said to be the sole possessors of ‘modesty’.
 
 
For example, a woman’s mannerisms, walk, make-up, mode of dressing, hour of the day when she is out may be deciding factors when she claims the protection of her ‘modesty’! So, in 1967, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court deliberated on whether a female child of seven-and-a-half years, who was raped, could be said to be possessed of ‘modesty’, which could be ‘outraged’.
 
 
Child sexual abuse
 
When Pinki Virani wrote Bitter Chocolate in 2000, the book sent shockwaves through the ‘Happy Indian Family’. For the first time, popular consciousness started questioning what was understood to be the most secure space for children. We were aware of children’s vulnerability to sexual abuse -- but were convinced that it happened to ‘bad’ children, from ‘bad’ families, in ‘bad’ places. In case a ‘good’ child, from a ‘good’ family was abused, the abuser would invariably be a ‘bad’ stranger. Bitter Chocolate shattered this myth and laid bare the fact that sexual abuse of children cuts across class, caste, cultural and economic backgrounds.
 
 
Yet, in India there is no separate law on child sexual abuse (CSA). The only legal recourse for the offence of CSA are rape and outraging of modesty, which fail to arrest the unique nature of the sexual abuse of children. As the above provisions only consider peno-vaginal penetration to be rape, they provide for an extremely inadequate and moralistic understanding of other forms of abuse faced by girls who are not ‘raped’.
 
 
The law on rape in the IPC only covers CSA of girl-children where peno-vaginal penetration has taken place. Most often CSA does not take this form, but ranges from exhibitionism and touching to all forms of penetration (including penile-anal, penile-oral, object-vaginal, and finger-vaginal). In cases of CSA concerning girl-children, where penetration of the vagina has not taken place, Section 354 (outraging of modesty) comes into operation. Another major inadequacy of this provision is the quantum of punishment. For CSA amounting to the gravest forms of molestation just falling short of penetration, it stipulates a maximum of two years imprisonment, as against a minimum of seven years imprisonment for ‘rape’. None of the above Sections provide any protection to boy-children who face sexual abuse.
 
 
Sexual harassment in the workplace
 
 
Sexual harassment in the workplace is considered a violation of human rights, and an affront to the dignity of the person harassed. It is viewed as a manifestation of violence against women that results in creating an atmosphere of discrimination against her. It is seen as unacceptable conditions of work which have detrimental effects for both female employees and the employer.
 
 
Sexual harassment can take the form of ‘harmless’ banter or unwelcome physical conduct. Sometimes, a boss may use sexually tinged language with a female colleague; demand that she meet him after office hours for a ‘relaxed and quiet dinner for two’; or even threaten her career options using sexual harassment to silence her. Sexual harassment at the workplace violates one’s freedom and personal dignity, goes against the right to work in a healthy environment free of discrimination, and is unequal and discriminatory behaviour.
 
 
A survey conducted for the National Commission for Women (NCW) , covering over 1,200 women in both the organised and unorganised sectors, found that nearly 50% had experienced gender discrimination or physical and mental harassment at work. Yet, 85% of them had never heard of the existence of any law against sexual harassment. Only 11% of them were aware that they could seek legal redressal in cases of sexual harassment, and that sexual harassment was an offence punishable by law.
 
 
The NCW survey found women in the unorganised sector more vulnerable to sexual harassment than women in the organised sector. Apart from sexual harassment, 32% of the women covered in the survey also reported discrimination in salaries, leave, promotions, work distribution and working hours.
 
 
 
  Copyright@ 2009 India Women Welfare Foundation