Women Safety Issues – Marital Rape, Domestic Violence, Swadhar, Nirbhaya Fund, etc.

Madras High Court’s Interpretation of POSH Act, 2013


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Right to Report, POSH Act ,2013

Why in the News?

Madras HC upheld the ‘Right to Report’ serious incidents of sexual harassment a time, rejecting the 3-month deadline under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act (POSH), 2013.

  • Long-term emotional and psychological damage on victims underscored the need for a broader application of the law.

Right to Report under POSH Act, 2013

  • Case Background: The decision came while addressing a police officer’s petition to quash an enquiry report for alleged sexual assault against a female colleague.
  • Madras HC Reasoning: Serious allegations leading to “grave mental trauma” and “stress” constitute a “continuing offence” under POSH, allowing victims to report and investigate at any time.
  • Notable Observations: the Madras HC distinguished between isolated incidents and serious allegations like assault or molestation.
  1. Isolated Incidents: Must adhere to strict deadlines under POSH.
  2. Serious Allegations: Treated as continuous misconduct until addressed, allowing flexibility in reporting timelines due to fear of victimisation.

What is the POSH Act?

  • The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was passed in 2013.
  • It defined sexual harassment, laid down the procedures for a complaint and inquiry, and the action to be taken.
  • It broadened the Vishakha Guidelines, which were already in place.

The POSH Act broadened these guidelines:

  • It mandated that every employer must constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) at each office or branch with 10 or more employees.
  • It lays down procedures and defines various aspects of sexual harassment, including the aggrieved victim, who could be a woman “of any age whether employed or not”, who “alleges to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment”.
  • This meant that the rights of all women working or visiting any workplace, in any capacity, were protected under the Act.

Definition of Sexual Harassment

Under the 2013 law, sexual harassment includes “any one or moreof the followingunwelcome acts or behaviour” committed directly or by implication:

  • 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 a sexual nature.

The Ministry of Women & Child Development has published a Handbook on Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace with more detailed instances of behaviour that constitutes sexual harassment at the workplace. These include, broadly:

  • Sexually suggestive remarks or innuendos; serious or repeated offensive remarks; inappropriate questions or remarks about a person’s sex life
  • Display of sexist or offensive pictures, posters, MMS, SMS, WhatsApp, or emails
  • Intimidation, threats, blackmail around sexual favours; also, threats, intimidation or retaliation against an employee who speaks up about these
  • Unwelcome social invitations with sexual overtones, commonly seen as flirting
  • Unwelcome sexual advances.

Unwelcome behaviour

  • The Handbook says “unwelcome behaviour” is experienced when the victim feels bad or powerless; it causes anger/sadness or negative self-esteem. 
  • It adds unwelcome behaviour is one which is “illegal, demeaning, invading, one-sided and power based”.

Circumstances amounting to SHW

The Act mentions five circumstances that amount to sexual harassment implied or explicit:

  1. The promise of preferential treatment in her employment
  2. The threat of detrimental treatment
  3. Threat about her present or future employment status
  4. Interference with her work or creating an offensive or hostile work environment
  5. Humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety

Procedure for complaint

Filing a complaint The aggrieved victim has the option to file a complaint with the ICC, but it is not compulsory for the ICC to act.
Assistance in filing a complaint Any member of the ICC must provide reasonable assistance to the victim in filing a written complaint.
Filing a complaint on behalf of the victim If the victim is unable to file a complaint due to incapacity, death, or other reasons, her legal heir may file it on her behalf.
The time limit for filing a complaint The complaint must be made within 3 months from the date of the incident
Extension of time limit ICC has the authority
Monetary settlement and conciliation Yes. It is possible.
Forwarding complaint or initiating an inquiry Must be completed within 90 days.
Confidentiality of information The act ensures the confidentiality of the woman’s identity, respondent’s identity, inquiry details, recommendations, and actions taken

Requirements imposed on employers

Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) Employers with more than 10 employees must establish an ICC to address sexual harassment complaints.
Composition of ICC The ICC must include women employees, another employee, and a third-party member familiar with sexual harassment issues.
Local Committee (LC) for smaller organizations Organizations with fewer than 10 employees must create an LC to receive complaints from the informal sector.
Complaint filing process Women can file written complaints to either the ICC or LC within three to six months of the incident.
Resolution methods The Act provides two resolution methods: conciliation between the parties involved or conducting an inquiry by the committee.
Annual audit report Employers must file an annual audit report on sexual harassment complaints and take responsibility for conducting workshops, awareness programs, and orientation for ICC members.
Non-compliance penalties Non-compliance with the Act can result in penalties, including fines.



[2019] What are the continued challenges for Women in India against time and space?

[2014] We are witnessing increasing instances of sexual violence against women in the country. Despite existing legal provisions against it, the number of such incidences is on the rise. Suggest some innovative measures to tackle this menace.

[2010] Two of the schemes launched by the Government of India for Women’s development are Swadhar and Swayam Siddha. As regards the difference between them, consider the following statements:

  1. Swayam Siddha is meant for those in difficult circumstances such as women survivors of natural disasters or terrorism, women prisoners released from jails, mentally challenged women etc.,whereas Swadhar is meant for holistic empowerment of women through Self Help Groups.
  2. Swayam Siddha is implemented through Local Self Government bodies or reputed Voluntary Organizations whereas Swadhar is implemented through the ICDS units set up in the states.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥Mentorship New Batch Launch
💥Mentorship New Batch Launch