The Delhi High Court has held that the credibility of a woman alleging sexual harassment at workplace is not diminished because of pending disciplinary proceedings against her in Ms X (Anita Suresh) vs. UoI (LPA 527/2019).

A judgement to this effect was passed by a Division Bench while dealing with an appeal against an order passed by a Single Judge Bench. Before the Single Judge, the Appellant had challenged the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)’s order holding inter alia that the sexual harassment allegations could not be established during the inquiry.

Clarifying that the complainant’s statement is to be considered independently to determine whether it is true or not, the Court remarked, “…the Internal Complaints Committee is intended as a platform to provide an environment of confidence to the complainant…It is to believe her and not compel her to name witnesses to seek corroboration, as has happened in the instant case…the perpetrator seeks out his target without putting himself in danger of being caught and preserving a “your word against mine” situation, which the woman would possibly find difficult to surmount before an inquiry committee.

The Court has held that the absence of eyewitnesses also cannot take away the credibility of the complainant. The court added that, “…the high standard of proof required in criminal trials is not called for during an inquiry by the Internal Complaints Committee under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH Act). It must always be borne in mind, that a woman who is perturbed by an action of a male colleague, either through words, gestures or action, cannot be expected to have such clarity of thought, to know who all were present at the time of the incident, and who all may have witnessed the incident and remember their names and faces…

The Single Judge had imposed costs of Rs. 50, 000/- (Rupees Fifty Thousand Only) on the Appellant/complainant after concluding that the sexual harassment complaint made by her against a fellow employee (accused) was false. In view of the records placed before it, the Court observed that the Single Judge could not have entered into a “re-appraisal of the evidence” when the statements made before the Complaints Committee “clearly established” that the accused had been misbehaving by making statements with sexual overtones.

Before parting, the High Court nonetheless recorded certain pertinent observations on sexual harassment at the workplace and “gender conditioning” of men. Acknowledging women as valuable human resource, the Court remarked, “It is impossible not to notice ‘common women’ being put down by ‘common man’, less said the better about the third gender.”

Stressing on the need to sensitize all employees, the Court said that all must always remain “acutely aware” of the dignity of the female employees. A strong Redressal system in the organization would also protect the male workforce and officials from vexatious complaints, the Court added.

Order: Ms. X (Anita Suresh) vs. UOI