A bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra, while referring to a similar move by the court to tackle sexual harassment at work places, said that it had become urgent for it to interfere in public interest and pass directions to curb the menace.
The apex court directed all states and union territories to establish within three months women’s helplines in cities and towns to curb harassment. It also said women police officers in plain clothes should be deployed near public places such as bus and train stations, cinema halls, shopping malls and parks, among others.
The court ordered installation of CCTV cameras in all such public places, which it underlined, would not only help in nabbing offenders but also act as a deterrent.
The bench also said that permits of public carriers would be cancelled if the driver or anyone else in-charge of the vehicle fails to take it to the nearest police station on receiving a complaint about harassment.
“Responsibility is also on the passers-by and on noticing such incident, they should also report the same to the nearest police station or to women’s helpline to save the victims from such crimes,” it added.
The bench asked people in-charge of places such as educational institutions, places of worship and cinema halls to inform the nearest police station or the women’s help centre on receiving a harassment complaint. Suitable signages cautioning against the crime should also be exhibited in all public places.
“The state governments and union territories of India would take adequate and effective measures by issuing suitable instructions to the concerned authorities including the district collectors and the district superintendent of police so as to take effective and proper measures to curb such incidents of eve-teasing,” said the bench.
The court’s directions came while hearing an appeal by the Tamil Nadu police department against an order to re-instate a police officer, who had been dismissed after being found guilty of harassing a woman. The high court had passed the order after the officer had been acquitted by a criminal court.
The apex court reversed the HC’s order saying disciplinary proceedings had rightly held the officer guilty and that he was acquitted by the criminal court not because he was proven innocent but because the witnesses, including the woman complainant, turned hostile.
“Eve-teasing today has become pernicious, horrid and disgusting practice. More and more girl students, women go to educational institutions, work places etc. and their protection is of extreme importance to a civilised and cultured society. The experiences of women and girl children in over-crowded buses, metros, trains etc. are horrendous and a painful ordeal,” the bench said.
“We notice that there is no uniform law in this country to curb eve-teasing effectively. Consequences of not curbing such a menace, needless to say, are at times disastrous. There are many instances where girls of young age are being harassed, which sometimes may lead to serious psychological problems and even committing suicide,” the bench said, adding the crime violated fundamental rights of women.
It said directives from the SC were also required since the proposed Protection of Woman against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010, which is intended to protect female workers in workplaces, was “not sufficient to curb eve-teasing.” Moreover, of all the states, only Tamil Nadu had come up with a legislation against harassment after the crime led to the death of a woman in 1998, it said.