This article consists of sexual harassment on women in public places in India, difficulties faced, laws regulating sexual harassment, and measures to be taken by appropriate authority to eradicate this problem.
Sexual harassment can be physically or in gesture, according to Oxford Languages sexual harassment is defined as “behaviour characterized by making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situation”[i]. Sexual harassment in public places is also called as ‘street harassment’ in U.S. Sexual harassment in public places cannot be defined or specifically cannot be explained. This (sexual harassment) is one of the major problems faced by Indian women in their day to day routine, which may be while traveling or on the streets.
There are many laws across the country that are trying to stop or eradicate this problem. Such as Constitutional Law states that nothing shall prevent a state from making special provisions for women and children under Article 15(3); The Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 of Section 2 defines sexual harassment, the case ‘Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan’[ii] this case lead for the enactment of this major law against sexual harassment in working place; Under IPC i.e., Indian Penal Code section 294, section 354, section 354 A, section 354 C, section 354 D, section 503, section 499, section 509; In 2013 the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 under section 354 A was added to the IPC which specifies the offences and penalties for sexual harassment. The common range of punishment is 1-3 years or fine or both.
Complaining procedure for sexual harassment, the complaints can be received in writing or orally or online through the official website ‘National Commission for Women’.
The National Commission for Women deals with receiving complaints all over the country which includes deprivation of rights of women & involving injustice to women to women takes suo moto cognizance of incidents related to the commission of heinous crimes against women under section of the Nation Commission Act, 1990. The procedure of complaints are as follows Investigation by the police are monitored and expedited; For serious crimes, the commission constitutes an Inquiry Committee which makes spot inquiries, examines various witnesses, collects evidence and submits the report with recommendations such investigations help in providing immediate relief and justice to the victims; and few cases are also referred to other commissions like Human Right Commission and National commission and State commission for women.
The few landmark judgments under sexual harassment that brought major decision and changes in law with regard to this problem the cases such as, Tuka Ram and Anr v. State of Maharashtra after the judgment of this case the major changes were brought in rape and sexual harassment laws i.e, the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 1983; in the case Vishaka v. the State of Rajasthan and Ors., this case gave the landmark decision on sexual harassment in working places, rules and guidelines were given and specified legal changes were made and specialized act was enacted the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013; And other cases are Medha Kotwal Lele & Othrs v. Union of India & ors, Mukesh &Anr. v. State for NCT of Delhi & Ors, Seema Lepcha v. State of Sikkim and Others, Independent Thought v. Union of India and Anr, Apparel Export Promotion Council v. A.K Chopra. These cases lead to bring major changes in laws regarding sexual harassment.
In India, there are various laws implemented against the violence of sexual harassment but the follow up of those laws by the general public is failed, this kind of situation arises because of few loopholes in the system. So, in few cases, the harasser is not punished and victims are not given justice. In a few situations, the victims of sexual harassment will step back to register the case against the accused because of the delayed procedure of justice. In India 99% of cases of sexual harassment are unreported because of various circumstances such as the procedure of law and the major issue is facing society.
The sexual harassment may be at working place, school, and colleges these can be controlled and the complaint can be filled and in few circumstances at home also even in this situation, the complaint can be filed. But, when the sexual harassment in public places like metros, public buses, train, platforms, bus station, footpath, etc. or other public places there is no such specified laws or any enactments are there with regard to control the sexual harassment and very rarely the cases are registered. According to ‘Brownman’ the characteristics of street harassment or sexual harassment are “the targets are female; the harassers are male; the harassers are unacquainted with their targets; the encounter is face to face, the forum is a public one, such as a street, sidewalk, bus, bus station, taxi or other places to which the public generally has access”.
There are various problems faced by the victims of sexual harassment such as, it cannot be expressed, social acceptance, these can also lead to depression and mental agony that affects the mental health of the victim, and the way of dealing matter by the authorities. As I mentioned before the procedure of law that is too long and the veridiction of decision consumes time and the delayed judgment. To reduce this problem the government should take appropriate decisions and the strict implementation of laws and speedy veridiction of decision or judgment. To eradicate the problem of sexual harassment in public places the guidelines should be brought as the guidelines given for sexual harassment in working place in Vishaka’s case this case defines sexual harassment as any unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication), they have explained few situations these are physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature. The unwelcoming behaviour includes bad feels, one-sided, feels powerless, power-based, unwanted, illegal, invading, demeaning, cause anger/sadness, cause negative self-esteem. But these guidelines are effective more in the workplace where the act occurs between a known person within premises in case of sexual harassment in public the act will be between the strangers and open place or public place because of this, the harassers will be or usually anonymous.
Conclusion and Suggestions
Sexual harassment is also known as street harassment according to U.S. sexual harassment may be through orally or physically or through gestures. Sexual harassment could occur in any place such as a working place or at home or in a public place. The few characteristics of sexual harassment in a public place has given by Brownman. There are so many laws brought to eradicate sexual harassment based on the decision of landmark judgments and the major laws like the Indian Penal Code and Constitutional Law have special provisions with regard to sexual harassment. To resolve the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace has been prevented by giving guidelines by referring to the land mark judgment in Vishaka’s case. But there a complication in registering of complaint on harassment that arises when the act occurred in a public place because the harasser is anonymous. The problem of sexual harassment in public places has increasing day by day. The main reason behind these kind of situations is because the system has failed to give punishment to the accused in many cases and loopholes in the procedure and the response by the authority when the victim reached to give a complaint.
To resolve sexual harassment in public places the government should bring special enactments. The authorities should take strict and stringent action when the victim has reached to give or register a complaint as such. The speedy trial should be conducted and there should not be any delay in giving the decision. When the case Vishaka v. the State of Rajasthan registered with regard to sexual harassment in the workplace in the year 1997 but the guidelines to control sexual harassment in the working place was given in the year 2013 through the act Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 this clearly shows the delay in bringing the law for a major problem where the decision and laws to be brought immediately. And the punishment for sexual harassment should not be a liberal punishment it should be a stringent one because when laws are not strict on sexual harassment that may lead to major incidents like rape or attempt to rape.
So, to conclude the government should bring various laws to solve and reduce this problem, and sexual harassment in a public place should be considered as a major problem and steps to be taken to eradicate this.
 AIR 1979 SC 185 (Mathra Case)
 (1997) 6 SCC 241
 (2013) 1 SCC 297
 (2017) 6 SCC 1
 (2013) 11 SCC 641
 (2017) 10 SCC 800
 (1999) (1) SCC 759
 Brownman, 523-4
 Handbook on Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
[i] Definition from Oxford Languages.
[ii] Vishaka & ors. v/s State of Rajasthan; AIR 1997 SC 3011.