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TheyToo: What about men and the third gender?

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have been sexually harassed and bullied by my boss. I was threatened I would lose my job if I didn’t comply — sounds like an excerpt from one of the hundreds of accounts of women that have been doing the rounds on social media? Well, it is a story of sexual harassment at the workplace all right, but it is unlikely to find a place in the current #MetToo narrative — because the statement comes from a man.

Amarpreet Kaur, the founder of HR Consulting company HRHelpdesk, ran a survey called Mahila Bol on the sexual harassment of women at the workplace. And she was surprised to find a bunch of men responding to the questionnaire. Their collective concern: What about us?

If they are looking for an answer from the corridors of law, they will have to wait. For, the law on sexual harassment at the workplace completely leaves men and the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied) community out of its scope.

On September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of India gave this country a “rainbow of hope” with its landmark judgment decriminalsing homosexuality under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. While the verdict directly affected a particular section of the society, the judges’ words articulated the notion of a modern, progressive, democratic state. “Such progressive proclivity is rooted in the constitutional structure and is an inextricable part of human nature,” the five-judge bench had ruled. “The rule of law requires a just law which facilitates equality, liberty and dignity in all its facets,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud had said.

A similar drive to establish an equal society saw the ruling on the colonial-era adultery law, according to which a man who had sex with a married woman, without the permission of her husband, had committed a crime. The Supreme Court struck it down, saying: “It is time to say that a husband is not the master. Equality is the governing parameter.”

That “equality” and “progressive proclivity” are not so visible when it comes to protecting men and the queer community from sexual harassment at the workplace.

According to Anindya Hazra, the director of Pratyay Gender Trust that works for transgender rights, the number of transgenders might be significantly below the number of cisgender women (women who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) who have faced some sort of harassment at the workplace, but the percentage would be way higher. He says: “Experience shows almost all transgenders who have found employment have been targets of physical and verbal abuse.”

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 clearly lays down gender-specific rules against the abuse of an “aggrieved woman”, dumping the men and queer people who have faced harassment in a discomforting and lonely minority.

Kaur agrees that the law is “primarily for women”, as it is women alone who can file a legal complaint against harassment. “It is true that the act is silent on men and transgenders,” she adds.

The male respondents of the Mahila Bol survey had raised several issues and complaints but, Kaur admits, there is little that can be done to legally address them. Her company is “reaching out” to them to “help them in some way”, she says, without elaborating how.

Kaur is of the belief that the “grey areas” in the law need to be updated to make it more inclusive. “Cases need to be decided on an individual basis and policies should be formulated to bring in everybody into the ambit,” she says, adding that she plans to approach the government soon, urging for a relook at the policy

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