Physical contact in an altercation does not amount to sexual harassment in the absence of sexual undertones

A Single Judge Bench of the Delhi High Court comprising of Vibhu Bakhru, J, dismissed a petition against an impugned order in which the Complaint Committee had exonerated Respondent 3 of charges of sexual harassment leveled against him. The petition also challenged the order of the Disciplinary Authority which passed an order in accordance with the findings of the Complaint Committee.

The matter took place on 29.04.2005. The petitioner alleged that while she was working at the laboratory, Respondent 3 had entered the laboratory and created a ruckus, by snatching the samples and throwing the research materials. The Respondent 3 had then, allegedly, pushed the petitioner locked her outside the laboratory. Subsequent to these events, the petitioner was requested to complete the formalities relating to certain equipment of HEM division before leaving the machines as the said division was dissolved. A complaint note was then prepared by the petitioner and forwarded to the Director, CRRI by proper channels. A Complaint Committee was formed comprising of five members. The committee found that the complaint, though, alleged sexual harassment, it was a case of altercation in the background of uncongenial environment prevailing in the Division.

The complainant argued that since there was physical contact during the incident, it would amount to sexual harassment as any physical contact must necessarily amount to sexual harassment. The court said that all physical contact can’t be termed as sexual harassment and only physical contact and advances in the nature of an “unwelcome sexually determined behaviour” would amount to sexual harassment. In the instant case, the physical contact was in due course of an altercation and was without sexual undertones. The Court, finding no infirmity with the impugned order, dismissed the same. [Shanta Kumar v. Council of Scientific and Industrial Research WP (C) 8149 of 2010, decided on 31.10.2017]

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