Women, Know your Rights?
The times that we live in is such where we hear about rising crimes against women each day. Many women in India are unaware of their legal or constitutional rights that can help during a crisis. This lack of awareness renders them easy targets or victims of violation of legal as well as fundamental rights.
Any tool would be useless if the person operating it is unaware of the way it is to be used. Therefore, the objective here is to serve as a ready reckoner to all the stakeholders and to re-educate them regarding their rights while facing a problem. A brief overview of some of the important rights for women are given below..
Right to equal remuneration : Equal Remuneration Act (1976) provides for payment of equal remuneration to both men and women workers for same work or work of a similar nature. It also prevents discrimination on the ground of sex, against women in recruitment and service conditions.
Right against harassment at the workplace: Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013, provides protection to women from sexual as well as other types of harassment at all workplaces both in public and private sector, whether organized or unorganized. The complaint can be made to the Internal Complaints Committee or Local Complaints Committee, typically within three months of the date of the suspected incident. If not satisfied with the inquiry, appellate authority may be approached.
Right to confidentiality and privacy : According to section 16 of Sexual Harassment act Victims who are sexually harassed have a right of confidentiality, the act states that the personal details or actions taken must not be known to the public, press or media in any manner. Section 228-A of the Indian Penal Code makes the disclosure of a victim’s identity a punishable offence. To ensure that her privacy is protected, under Section 164 of Code of Criminal Procedure, a woman who has been sexually assaulted may record her statement alone before the district magistrate when the case is under trial, or at a police station in the presence of a female police officer.
Rights against trafficking: Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, is the premier legislation for prevention of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. In other words, it prevents trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of prostitution as an organized means of living.
Rights against indecent representation: Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 prohibits indecent representation of women through advertisements or in publications, writings, paintings, figures or in any other manner.
Rights against exploitation: Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, is a comprehensive legislation to protect women in India from all forms of domestic violence. It also covers women who have been/are in a relationship with the abuser and are subjected to violence of any kind—physical, sexual, mental, verbal or emotional.
Right to maternity, medical and employment-related benefits: Maternity Benefit Act (1961) regulates the employment of women in certain establishments for a specific period before and after childbirth and provides for maternity and other benefits.
Right against female foeticide: Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, provides for the termination of pregnancies by registered medical practitioners on humanitarian and medical grounds. Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994, prohibits sex selection before or after conception and prevents the misuse of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for sex determination leading to female foeticide.
Right to free legal aid: Legal Services Authorities Act (1987) provides free legal services to Indian women. It is mandatory for the Station House Officer (SHO) to inform the legal service authorities to arrange for a lawyer.
Right for not to be arrested at night: A woman cannot be arrested after sunset and before sunrise except in exceptional cases on orders of First Class Magistrate. This has been ensured by Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act 2005 subsection 4 section 46 and also through a guideline by the National Human Rights Commission in 1997.
Right to dignity and decency: It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women [Article 51-A(e)]. In the event that an accused is a woman, any medical examination procedure on her must be performed by or under the supervision of a female medical practitioner as per section 53 of CrPC (1973).
Right to property: Hindu Succession Act, 1956 amended in 2005 recognizes the right of women to inherit parental property equally with men. There may be several other factors involved in the sharing of property- like whether there is a will, if the property is ancestral or self acquired etc but the law grants equal rights for inheritance to both men and women.
The provision of Zero FIR : The ruling by Supreme Court mentioned that a woman who is a victim can register her complaint at any police station under the Zero FIR ruling. The Zero FIR is an FIR that can be filed at any police station irrespective of the location where the incident occurred or a specific jurisdiction it comes under. Once the FIR is lodged, submission of investigation report and forwarding of the case to a magistrate are done, it can be moved to the police station in whose jurisdiction the case falls under. This ruling was passed to save time that would impact a victim or might lead to an offender getting away scot-free if delayed.
Right to give virtual complaint: Delhi Police and police departments of many states have issued guidelines that any woman who cannot be present physically at a police station, can lodge a complaint via e-mail or registered post. In the situation of not being able to go to the police station, she can send a written complaint through e-mail or post addressing it to a senior police officer. A rape victim can lodge a complaint, and no police station and cop can deny registering her FIR. After the complaint is registered the police officials would record her statement at her residence.
Right against being stalked: Section 354D of the IPC makes way for legal action to be taken against an offender if he/she follows a woman, tries to contact her to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest; or monitor the use by a woman on the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication.
Right against being summoned for interrogation: Section 160 of Code of Criminal Procedure makes it clear that women cannot be called to the police station for investigation. If the police have to investigate they have to go to her residence and interrogate her there in the presence of a lady constable and her family or friends.
(The author is Director, TGL Foundation, Editor Anthropology Today, Sr Director FWO)