Unwelcome or accidental physical contact without undertones of a sexual nature doesn’t amount to sexual harassment, the Delhi high court has ruled.
Upholding the clean chit given to a former CRRI scientist with regard to a complaint of an ex-colleague against him, the HC said there should be context while defining a physical contact as sexual in nature. The woman scientist had challenged the clean chit given by the CRRI internal complaints panel to her colleague, whom she had accused of sexual harassment. Undoubtedly, physical contact or advances would constitute sexual harassment provided such physical contact is a part of the sexually determined behaviour. Such physical contact must be in the context of a behaviour which is sexually oriented. Plainly, a mere accidental physical contact, even though unwelcome, would not amount to sexual harassment. Similarly, a physical contact which has no undertone of a sexual nature and is not occasioned by the gender of the complainant may not necessarily amount to sexual harassment,” Justice Vibhu Bakhru noted.
Both the scientists were working in the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) .
In her complaint, the woman had referred to an incident of April 2005 when the man entered the laboratory where she was working, grabbed her arm, snatched the samples from her hand and threw them on the floor.He also pushed her out of the room. She maintained that this was an unwelcome physical contact that would amount to sexual harassment.
But the internal complaints committee concluded that “it was a case of altercation in the background of the uncongenial environment prevailing in the division.”
The committee also held that though it was deplorable the way male scientist held her arm and threw the material in her hand in a fit of anger, the same “would not qualify as a sexual harassment.”
HC saw substance in the stand of the committee and agreed 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.”
Justice Bakhru also rejected the woman’s second ground of appeal where she had challenged the constitution of the committee and the disciplinary authority, saying that it finds no infirmity in their set up.