Sexual harassment is a type of harassment technique that is of a sexual nature which normally includes unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours. Sexual harassment comprises a range of actions from mild transgressions to direct sexual abuse or assault. Harassment may occur in many different social settings such as the workplace, the home, school, public places etc. Harassers have no specified gender and could belong to any gender. However, sexual harassment, abuse and assault against women is so common and widespread, that there are more concrete laws for sexually protecting women than other genders, with adequate recognition for the same.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 mandates all workplaces, including, any department, organisation, undertaking, establishment, institutions, office, branch or unit which is established, owned, controlled or wholly or substantially financed by funds provided directly or indirectly by the appropriate Government or the local authority or a Government company or a corporation or a co-operative society having more than 10 workers to constitute Internal Committees (ICs) for receiving complaints of sexual harassment of women at workplaces. Educational Institutions are also covered under the Act. A report of the Ministry of Human Resource and Development noted a 50% increase in the sexual harassment cases since 2016-17.
The years 2014-18 itself saw as much as 28 reported cases of Sexual Harassment in the Delhi University itself! Recently, the Delhi High Court, in Ajay Tiwari v. University of Delhi and ors, dealt with the issue of sexual harassment by a teacher on his student. The court stressed on the sacred and divine relationship between a student and a teacher, which can no way be corrupted. It further stated that, though sexual harassment specifically pertains to unwelcomed acts, which means there was no consent involved, as far as such a relationship of a teacher and student is concerned, even welcomed acts of a student would not act as a defence for the teacher. The Judgement was passed by a Single Judge Bench of Justice C Hari Shankar while hearing a challenge to the Delhi University’s decision to compulsorily retire the petitioner and laid down that,
..there can never be any question of a teacher seeking to justify having committed acts, admittedly of a sexual colour and connotation, towards a student, seeking to urge, in his defence, that the acts were not “unwelcome”…sexually coloured conduct or behaviour, towards a student, by a teacher, is completely proscribed, morally as well as legally..”
The Court has added that a teacher can also not take the defence that the student provoked the allegedly delinquent behaviour on his part.
” Students may be impressionable, and infatuation, towards a teacher, on the part of a student, is not an unknown phenomenon. It may be pardonable for a student to harbour such an infatuation, towards the teacher; it is, however, entirely unpardonable, for the teacher, to succumb to the infatuation, and reciprocate..”, it has said.
The Court furthermore held that the question whether the student was being taught by the particular teacher against whom the allegation of sexual harassment was made or not is irrelevant as teachers in an educational are loco parentis not only towards the students whom he teaches but to every student studying in the institution.
Lastly, it directly commented on the immoral conduct of such teachers and said that,
“A teacher who, instead of maintaining this high degree of moral conduct, indulges in sexually coloured text messages, or telephonic conversations, with his student, has no place in the institution and is an insult to the entire teaching community. For a teacher who regards himself as Dushyant to the student‟s Shakuntala, there can be no lesser punishment, in administrative civil law, then wholesale expulsion from the portals of the institution.”