As the Indian #MeToo movement is gaining good momentum and few perpetrators like Chetan Bhagat, Alok Nath coming out and apologizing, it is important to understand the thin line between impact vs intention. Often the defendant’s response is that it was unintentional or harmless touch or joke and that the victim needs to learn to be cool. At the end of it the impact on the individual is what matters.
Clearly sexual harassment is defined by law as a subjective experience, anything be it verbal, non-verbal, physical form of harassment that is sexual in nature, unwelcome and has an impact on the individual, the intention of the perpetrator is immaterial.
Some key tips to identify if you are harassing someone:
- India is a diverse workplace: At Indian workplace, it is essential to understand that people come from diverse backgrounds, of religion, community, culture, upbringing etc. The diversity and the individual’s choices and beliefs need to be respected. Comments like A. “this person is old school and needs to learn to be cool”, is definitely unacceptable. B. “Hugging someone from the opposite gender is perfectly fine from where I come from, I did not intend to harass her. I am not responsible if she feels impacted.
- Silence is acceptance? If you have taken a liking to someone, watch out for mutual or reciprocated positive vibes. The person may want to spend more time with you or is happy when you are around, look for these signs and then propose once. If the person does not respond further, then drop the proposal. Assumptions that “the person is shy and needs more time, “silence means acceptance” are cliches to be avoided.
- Are people comfortable when you are around? Watch out for the reaction and response of people around you. Do they enjoy your jokes or are people uncomfortable with your double meaning dialogues, have they said a “no” or “stop”? People may keep quiet most often, so they don’t annoy you, especially if you are in a senior position
- Will you exhibit the same behavior when your spouse, child or parent is present? If no, and you behave in a more civilized manner then definitely you are harassing someone.
- Will you like your name to published in the papers under #MeToo now or 20 years later, may be at the peak of your career?
- Put yourself or your loved ones in the victim’s shoes: would you like it if your boss or others behaved or commented or gossiped about you or your loved one in the same way?
- Consensual relationship with a subordinate: is an offence and can be punishable as you are misusing your power as a superior, misleads the subordinate, creates a conflict of interest for the rest of the team.
If any of the above points are applicable to you, then stop the harassing behavior immediately.
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