Abrar Reyaz

#MeToo Campaign is directionless without taking legal recourse

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It is necessary and also the need of the hour that women come forward to report the cases of sexual harassment- yet another step forward towards women empowerment. This campaign should have proceeded and continued with an aim to create awareness among women and make them feel empowered by registering such cases in police stations. But apart from the media hype, one wonders whether these cases are also being duly registered in police stations as well!

While it is obvious that people support the #MeToo campaign, there should also be no doubt that any disqualifying and unfit definition of sexual harrassment need not to be allowed to flourish and thrive. Further, we shouldn’t allow any vilification, false maligning or defamation on the basis of ill information. In no way people with any ill motive, seeking to take any revenge or an attempt to get hype be allowed to take benefit of such campaigns.

It is not too easy to prove a case of sexual harassment but what is appropriate is to report it to the police as per law. Sharing and dealing these cases on social media and naming and shaming, disgracing people without any legal trial makes the exercise nothing less than a vilifying campaign. Nobody can take law into their own hands on one pretext or other, whatsoever be the matter. It needs to be further understood that any person unless declared guilty by court is innocent in the eyes of law. What qualifies sexual harrasment is defined in IPC. Anything other than that is mere speculation or hypothesis.

First, people must know what qualifies to be a case of harassment.

Section 354A of the Indian Penal Code defines Sexual harassment as:

A man committing any of the following acts—

  1. physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures; or (b). a demand or request for sexual favours; or (c). showing pornography against the will of a woman; or (d). making sexually coloured remarks, shall be guilty of the offence of sexual harassment.

This section was inserted in the IPC in 2013 after Justice Verma committee report.

In one of the cases, I have found that a ‘radical’ feminist group in Kashmir, claiming to be protagonist of woman rights and empowerment while sharing a list of ‘alleged’ accused persons enlists one of the case, which is too poor to fit or qualify to be called a case of sexual harassment. In a post on its facebook page, one of the accused has been declared harasser only for a reason that his ‘guilt’ was that he has sent a poem ‘romantic’ to a girl with whom he had some acquaintance.  Moreover, it has been attributed to him that he had invited the same girl to meet him. Does inviting a female acquaint to meet alone make it a case of sexual harassment? Principally not!

#MeToo campaign is taking an ugly turn here. It can’t be allowed to let defame people. In such cases, the courts have also adopted doctrine of presumption and that presumption is to be rebutted by the accused, otherwise, law will presume him guilty.  The presumption principle is flawed, arbitrary and discriminatory. However, courts will decide on facts and circumstances of each case. This second approach makes the trial fair, equitable and reasonable.

Sanity, pragmatism and prudence demand that the law should be given preference over media trials. Social media trials are unjust and can’t replace courts. Nobody can be shamed, dishonored and declared guilty unless proven guilty. For that purpose, court is the ultimate destination.

I’m not giving any certificate of innocence or guilt to anyone on my part. The words innocent, guiltless have been used in sense of legal terminology.

The Author is a student of Law at the School of Legal Studies, Central University of Kashmir and can be reached at [email protected]

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