By Anuradha Gandhi and Rupin Chopra
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (hereinafter referred to as “the POSH Act”) was enacted to codify the universally accepted ideals of right to work with dignity and to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace. Its applicability extends to both organized and unorganized sectors. It provides for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
The statute does not concern itself merely with professional establishments, but also include coaching/educational institutions and female students enrolled in them under its purview of protection. In spite of such exhaustive statute on our books there has been a rising trend in incidences of sexual harassment at coaching/educational institutions.
A Worrisome Trend
The recent sexual harassment scandal perpetrated at Chandigarh University jolted the public consciousness into acknowledging the looming evil of sexual harassment at educational institutions. As per the available data collected by the University Grants Commission (UGC), the incidences of sexual harassment at universities and colleges are on an increasing trend. The data shows that in 2017-2018 the cases of sexual harassment in colleges and universities were 104, the same reached a peak of 299 in 2019-2020. However, this data is mere skin-deep, most educational and coaching institutes in tier-2 and tier-3 cities lack statutorily mandated Internal Complaint Committees redress the incidents of sexual harassment.
In its official correspondence the NCW asked all the Chief Secretaries of the respective States and Union Territories to direct the coaching/educational institutes to ensure implementation of the POSH Act for the protection of female students within their respective establishments. The NCW has also asked the States and the Union Territories to direct their respective authorities to conduct public awareness programmes and campaigns on the POSH Act among all the stakeholders to make sure that such incidences of sexual harassment at workplace are effectively reported and dealt with.
Advisory’s Raison D’etre
The NCW Chairperson Rekha Sharma expressed grave concern regarding the growing incidences of sexual harassment, especially of female students, at coaching/educational institutions. A Severe insufficiency in the application of POSH Act on ground may embolden teachers, mentors and tutors to elicit sexual favours from vulnerable and unsuspecting female students under their watch. Taking cognizance of such scenario, the National Commission of Women (NCW) has issued an advisory to all the States and Union territories regarding compliance of the POSH Act by coaching/educational institutes running in their respective jurisdictions.
The NCW advisory comes as a timely reminder for all stakeholders to ensure effective implementation of the POSH Act in coaching/educational institutes. Such establishments host a large number of female students who may not be privy to the protections afforded to them against sexual harassment at workplace under the law.
The Advisory is a shot in the arm for creating awareness, especially among young women, and ensuring that female students are not prevented from availing desired education due to the malpractice of sexual harassment at workplace.
 University Grants Commission, Sexual Harassment Cases for the Year 2020-21, https://www.ugc.ac.in/pdfnews/4588885_University-Sexual-Harassment-Cases-for-the-Year-2020-21.pdf.
 University Grants Commission, Data of Sexual Harassment updated till JANUARY 2020, https://www.ugc.ac.in/pdfnews/1189041_Data-of-Sexual-Harassment-Universities-2018-19.pdf.
 Section 4, Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
Shantam Sharma, Intern at S.S. Rana & Co. has assisted in the research of this article.
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