In this day and age we spend most of our productive time in community, education and work spaces. These spaces, in contrast to vastly unregulated public spaces, are defined by specific ownership, culture and access rules. With this space shaping power comes a great responsibility to promote a safe environment for every user.
With the enactment of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act (POSH Act) in 2013, all India-based organisations are legally mandated to implement an anti-harassment policy, to sensitise its members through training, and — depending on the size of the organisation — to establish a well trained Internal Investigation Committee or to refer to a Local Investigation Committee for civil remedies for gender-based violence and sexual assault, complementary to criminal law procedures.
Raising a complaint at the community or work space allows an organisation to investigate on its own and sanction abusive behaviour without awaiting the results of a lengthy criminal law procedure. For example, this allows the organisation to suspend a harasser prior to the conclusion of a criminal process, from which survivors often abstain in fear of being made responsible and further marginalised by insensible police forces.
Another benefit is the broad workplace definition of the POSH Act, which includes non-salaried staff, interns, clients and visitors of premises under organisational control.
At colleges and universities, the POSH Act has invalided former processes based on the Visakha Guidelines, which also included student body representatives in the investigation committees.
In private organisations, as well as among public organisations, the will to implement the law is minimal, not least because non-compliance is not sanctioned.
For small organisations with fewer than 10 employees, or in the event that the organisation’s top management or a representative of the Internal Investigation Committee is amongst the accused of harassment or assault, its prescribed that the Local Investigation Committees takes the lead. These however exist with few exceptions only on paper. In November 2015, the Delhi Women Commission made a public demand to the body responsible for the appointments to reverse this deficiency. Yet nothing has happened in the meantime.
Another shortcoming is that the scope of protection is limited to women and thus LGBT or males stand without any rights to file a complaint.
As the awareness drive increases and government initiatives become more stringent towards its compliance, industry leaders even with the best of the interest struggle to implement all the necessary guidelines and processes to provide a safe environment to everyone.
With the intent to support the initiatives of such leaders, CrowdGuard has designed and adopted a gender inclusive anti-harassment policy and developed a training programme about obligations under the POSH Act and bystander intervention strategies.
We see a strategic path through the voluntary commitment to a higher standards Code of Conduct (with regards to extending the scope to LGBT and heterosexual men) to collect empirical data on attacks against these individuals, thus preparing an informed basis to eventually extend the scope of the domestic legislation.