"From Stories to Solutions": Understanding the #MeToo Movement and the POSH Act"
Nov. 09, 2023 • Vibhanshu Srivastava
The #MeToo movement has come under the spotlight in recent years since more victims are now speaking out against their abusers. These victims repressed their abuse for years, ashamed to speak out fearing that they would not be believed or face extreme scrutiny and humiliation. Victims are now coming together to seek justice and reform the judicial system and how they handle sexual abuse and violence cases. In this blog, the author has covered the origin of the #MeToo movement, its situation in India, some famous cases, legal developments mentioning the POSH Act, its features and lastly the adverse effects of the #MeToo movement.
Key points- #MeToo movement, POSH, India, Sexual Abuse, Legal Developments.
The #MeToo movement is a global social media campaign and grassroots movement that began in October 2017 intending to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. When individuals, primarily women, began sharing their personal experiences of harassment and assault on social media platforms with the hashtag #MeToo, the movement gained traction. Tarana Burke, an activist, coined the phrase "Me Too" in 2006 to empower survivors of sexual violence, particularly women of colour.
The movement swiftly expanded throughout several sectors, including politics, media, entertainment, and academia, bringing attention to the seriousness of the problem and highlighting how crucial it is to address and prevent sexual misconduct. #MeToo has forced many well-known people to take responsibility for their acts, spurred conversations in the public sphere about consent, power dynamics, and gender inequality, and changed laws and policies about sexual harassment in the workplace globally. The movement is still a driving force behind social change, giving survivors the voice to tell their stories and dismantling social norms that support harassment and abuse.
#MeToo movement in India
In India, the #MeToo movement gained a lot of popularity in 2018, which prompted a wave of women to come forward and talk about their experiences with sexual assault and harassment. It has contributed to increased awareness of the significance of putting the current legal framework in place and upholding it to stop and deal with sexual harassment. It prompted more women to come forward and disclose harassment incidents, which increased the focus on putting preventive measures and awareness campaigns into place in workplaces nationwide. Although the movement is not a legal case in and of itself, it did spark several well-publicized cases and legal advancements concerning sexual harassment. A few of the notable cases and legal developments related to the #MeToo movement in India are:
- MJ Akbar Case (2018): Many women had reported that former Union Minister MJ Akbar harassed them sexually when he was a journalist. However, the first woman to publicly accuse him was journalist Priya Ramani, against whom Akbar filed a defamation suit. The court decided that Akbar's reputation could not be harmed by the accusations, leading to Priya Ramani's acquittal in the defamation case in 2019.
- Vikas Bahl Case (2018): A former employee of Phantom Films, a production company, accused the well-known Bollywood director of sexual harassment. Bahl was fired from the company after the accusations, and the episode raised awareness of workplace harassment in the Indian film industry.
- Case Study of Tanushree Dutta and Nana Patekar (2018): In 2008, Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta alleged that actor Nana Patekar had harassed her sexually while they were filming a movie. Even though this incident happened much earlier, her accusations became well-known in 2018 and were a major factor in the inception of the #MeToo movement in India.
- Raya Sarkar's List (2017): Raya Sarkar, a law student, compiled a list of alleged sexual harassers in academia before the #MeToo movement gained traction in India. Despite its contentious nature, the list spurred discussions about the widespread nature of harassment in academic settings.
In terms of legal developments, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 is the primary legislation addressing sexual harassment at workplaces in India. The law related to sexual harassment of women in the workplace was initially laid down by the Supreme Court in Vishakha and Ors v. State of Rajasthan and certain guidelines commonly known as “ Vishakha guidelines” were laid down for the protection of women.
The #MeToo movement in India, which gained momentum in 2018, and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013, commonly known as the POSH Act, are closely related.
POSH Act (Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace) was passed in India in 2013 to address and prevent cases of sexual harassment at work. The Act offers a thorough framework for handling sexual harassment claims and making sure that women are working in a secure environment. It requires that Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs) be set up in companies with more than ten employees to handle sexual harassment complaints. Organisations must also run awareness campaigns to inform staff members of their rights and the steps involved in reporting harassment. The POSH Act's significance and its implementation in workplaces across the nation were brought to light in large part by the #MeToo movement.
It resulted in a greater understanding of the rights of workers under the law, the obligation of employers to establish safe workplaces, and the necessity of taking tough action against harassers. Many organisations reviewed their internal policies and procedures related to sexual harassment due to the movement and the increased awareness it created, resulting in improved compliance with the POSH Act. Additionally, the movement encouraged more women to come forward with reports of harassment, which resulted in a more proactive response to these kinds of complaints in the workplace. All things considered, the #MeToo movement in India helped raise awareness about workplace harassment and created a more secure work environment for female employees.
Key features of the POSH Act
The key features of the POSH Act include:
- Definition of Sexual Harassment: The Act clearly states that certain behaviours are not acceptable in the workplace and includes a wide range of unwanted acts, advances, and requests for sexual favours.
- Application: The Act covers all workplaces, including those in the public and private sectors, organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and any location an employee visits while on the job, including locations where the employer provides transportation.
- Establishing an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)- it is mandatory for any organisation employing ten or more people. The ICC is in charge of handling sexual harassment complaints and making sure that women are safe in the workplace.
- Confidentiality: The Act guarantees the privacy of the identity of the complainant, the accused, and any witnesses, as well as the complaint. Confidentiality must be upheld to safeguard the interests of all parties.
- Redress and Penalties: In the event of non-compliance, the Act specifies penalties that may include a monetary fine. An employer may face penalties if they don't follow the rules. Employers must also notify the district officer or other authority as directed by the government about the number of cases that have been filed, resolved, and are still pending.
- Legal Recourse: If the complainant is not happy with the results of the inquiry, they can file a case with the court directly or go through the external complaint committee that the district officer established.
Adverse effects of the #MeToo movement
While it has helped bring attention to widespread problems with sexual harassment, the #MeToo movement in India has not been without its problems. The possibility of false accusations, wherein someone is falsely accused without sufficient evidence, has been a major source of worry. This can cause harm to one's reputation and career setbacks. Furthermore, the movement's focus on public humiliation has occasionally disregarded the law and due process, creating concerns about justice and fairness. Even before the accused's guilt is established, this rush to judgment which is frequently displayed on social media platforms can cause social stigma and serious repercussions for them. Furthermore, the movement's influence has been most noticeable in urban areas and particular industries, excluding marginalised voices from other sectors where harassment is common and rural areas.
To sum up, the POSH Act and the #MeToo movement have been crucial in increasing awareness of sexual harassment in India. Although the movement gave survivors the confidence to tell their stories, the POSH Act offered a framework for handling workplace harassment legally. Collectively, they have sparked important dialogues, questioned social norms, and moved the country closer to a more secure and courteous atmosphere for everybody, notwithstanding, that obstacles persist, underscoring the continuous requirement for cognizance, instruction, and proficient enforcement of legislation to yield enduring transformation.
 Is Justice always equivalent to the change in society? (In Case of MJ Akbar v. Priya Ramani), 2.4 JCLJ (2022) 2024
 (2021) 14 NUJS L Rev 410
 AIR 1997 SC 3011
 THE SEXUAL HARASSMENT OF WOMEN AT WORKPLACE (PREVENTION, PROHIBITION AND REDRESSAL) ACT, 2013
The author affirms that this article is an entirely original work, never before submitted for publication at any journal, blog, or other publication avenue. Any unintentional resemblance to previously published material is purely coincidental. This article is intended solely for academic and scholarly discussion. The author takes personal responsibility for any potential infringement of intellectual property rights belonging to any individuals, organizations, governments, or institutions.