The Delhi High Court, on Tuesday, refused to categorize every unwelcome physical contact as sexual harassment.
Justice Vibhu Bakhru explained, "Undoubtedly, physical contact or advances would constitute sexual harassment provided such physical contact is a part of the sexually determined behavior. Such physical contact must be in the context of a behavior 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."
The Court was hearing an Appeal challenging the clean chit given by the Complaint Committee as well as the Disciplinary Authority to an employee of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research accused of sexual harassment. The Appellant had alleged that the Respondent had "held her hand and pushed her out of the laboratory".
The Committee had, however, exonerated the Respondent, inter alia, concluding that the incident did not amount to a case of sexual harassment but involved "altercation in the background of the uncongenial environment prevailing in the division".
She had now challenged this conclusion, contending that any unwelcome physical contact should be categorized as sexual harassment.
The Court, however, did not agree with this contention and noted that even though the Complaint Committee had accepted that the Respondent had held the Appellant's arm, it had concluded that the same was not a sexually motivated behavior.
It then opined, "The Complaint Committee concluded that respondent no.3 might have held the petitioner's arm and thrown the material in her hand in a fit of anger; although, the said incident may be a case of harassment and is deplorable, the same would not qualify as a sexual harassment. Plainly, 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 behavior” would amount to sexual harassment."
The Court, therefore, upheld the conclusion pronounced by the Committee as well as the Disciplinary Authority, and dismissed the Appeal.