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1-min read

Not All Physical Contact Can Be Termed as Sexual Harassment, Rules Delhi HC

The verdict was on an appeal by an employee of the Council of scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who had levelled charges of sexual harassment against a colleague who had "held her hand and pushed her out of the laboratory".

Debayan Roy | News18.com

Updated:November 2, 2017, 6:40 PM IST
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Not All Physical Contact Can Be Termed as Sexual Harassment, Rules Delhi HC
File photo of Delhi High Court (Picture courtesy: Getty Images)
New Delhi: If your colleague holds your hand during an "altercation" then that touch itself cannot be termed as "sexual harassment", because any physical contact to be termed as sexual in nature must be "unwelcome sexually determined behaviour," ruled Justice Vibhu Bhakru of Delhi High Court.

The verdict was on an appeal by an employee of the Council of scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who had levelled charges of sexual harassment against a colleague who had "held her hand and pushed her out of the laboratory".

The employee had taken up the matter with the complaint committee of the organization and the Disciplinary authority, both of which absolved the accused of all charges of sexual harassment.

Justice Bhakru ruled that "all physical contact cannot be termed as sexual harassment and only a physical contact or advances which are in the nature of an “unwelcome sexually determined behaviour” would amount to sexual harassment."

In 1997, the Supreme Court in the case of Vishakha & Ors. v. State of Rajasthan, had set out the guidelines and norms for proper reporting and disposal of sexual harassment cases at work places. The case had also laid out an inclusive definition of sexual harassment that was later adopted as a norm in most of the private and public sector companies with an internal committee and grievance cell.

The complainant had mentioned that a scientist colleague, who stormed inside the laboratory, held her hand, snatched her testing sample and also slammed the door shut. She had further accused the scientist of using derogatory remarks against the Scheduled castes and had pointed out that she is married to a man from the SC community.

However, the court noted that none of the actions defined by the complainant could be viewed from the lens of sexual harassment.

"This Court does not find that the said conclusion to be perverse or without application of mind as was contended on behalf of the petitioner. This Court finds no merit in the present petition. The same is, accordingly, dismissed," stated Justice Bhakru.

The Delhi HC, however, noted that " undoubtedly, physical contact or advances would constitute sexual harassment," but only if such a behaviour is part of a "sexually determined behaviour. Even though unwelcome, would not amount to sexual harassment".

"Mere accidental physical contact, even though unwelcome, would not amount to sexual harassment," reads the judgment.
| Edited by: Ananya Chakraborty
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