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Madras High Court directs Armed Forces to constitute ICC for sexual harassment complaints

Team SoOLEGAL 1 Aug 2023 5:43pm

Madras High Court directs Armed Forces to constitute ICC for sexual harassment complaints

New Delhi: The Madras High Court has ordered the Union Ministry of Defence to set up an Internal complaints Committee (ICC) to handle sexual harassment accusations within the Armed Forces. [State v. Air Force Administrative College Commandant]

The Armed Forces must ensure that the ICC exists in compliance with the mandate of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act of 2013 (POSH Act), according to Justice RN Manjula.

The judge further directed the Central government to "sensitise all armed personnel by imparting gender sensitive awareness trainings." 

The Court also established a set of rules for district courts to follow when dealing with offences involving defence personnel.

The order noted that the district judiciary must follow the dicta established in Som Datt Datta v Union of India, and that the police must present their chargesheet before a magistrate rather than the "Court Martial" authority engaged in the case.

The Court was hearing a case involving an Indian Air Force flying lieutenant who claimed that she was raped by a colleague at the Air Force Administrative College in Coimbatore. She claimed that she was forced to withdraw her complaint and further she was humiliated at the Air Force Hospital during her medical test following the incident.

She further informed the Court that she was forced to approach the local police to have a case lodged because her employer, the Indian Air Force, had failed to respond adequately and appropriately to her complaint.

On noting that the plaintiff woman had been humiliated and forced to withdraw her rape accusation that she had filed to the Air Force Administrative College authorities the court stated,

"In this era of awareness and sensitivity, it is difficult to comprehend that a victim of a sexual offence in the Armed Forces was not comfortable enough to take up her grievance and she was looked down and pressured for having got the courage to report. If the women of the armed forces should not have courage to fight such violence, who else can have?"

Justice Manjula further stated that it was critical to prevent "secondary victimisation" of victims of sexual assault or violence. As a result, all facilities, including the Armed Forces, must ensure full adherence to the POSH Act of 2013.

 

The ruling was issued by the High Court in response to an appeal filed by the State on behalf of the Coimbatore All Women Police Station against a lower court's order that had enabled the accused's transfer to the Air Force despite his previously being held in judicial custody.

While the Air Force started an investigation, the accused was allowed to move freely around the Administrative College campus and even sit in the same class as the complainant. The woman was then forced to go to the Coimbatore police station.

When the police filed a case and the accused was detained and put to judicial custody, the Air Force requested his release, citing court martial proceedings. Because of the risk of custodial torture, the IAF authorities stated that they would not allow the accused to remain in the custody of local police or court authorities.

The High Court ruled that the lower court erred in permitting the police to conduct a parallel inquiry while handing over the accused's custody to the IAF.

The order stated, "The tenor of the counter affidavit (filed by the Air Force Administrative College) is as though it is an onset for a power wrangle. It contains some disparaging statements about the performance of the State police by taking excuses from certain isolated incidents."

The Coimbatore Police were represented by Government Advocate A Gopinath.

R Rajesh Vivekananthan, an advocate, appeared on behalf of the Air Force Administrative College in Coimbatore.



Tagged: Madras High Court  
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