Thousands of college students especially those pursuing law descend each semester for fleeting stints in various law firms and Courts with the motive of learning and gaining insightful experiences but it is highly disconcerting to see them especially girls falling prey to sexual harassment during their internships. A spate of incidents has been reported in the recent past related to sexual harassment of interns which throw sufficient light on the frequency and seriousness of the issue. However, a lot other similar incidents remain under the wraps because most of the law interns who land up in such situations hardly resort to any legal action despite being in the field of law themselves either because they fear the huge power wielded by these high dignitaries or the fear that it might jeopardise their personal and professional lives.
As a result of the prevalence of these incidents, it has gradually instilled fear in the minds of the parents as well especially those who reside in small cities and towns since they have become quite apprehensive about sending their female child all alone to metropolitan cities for internships which thereby hinder the smooth functioning of the internship and training programmes. These untoward incidents are literally plaguing and demeaning women and young girls in this profession, who in the wake of having practical experience end up being maltreated at the hands of the people under whom they intend to intern. Apart from this, such occurrences also have a devastating effect on the self esteem, health, confidence, morale and performance of its recipients. It also results in emotional and psychological injury including feelings of powerlessness, fear, anger, nervousness and diminished ambition which has been acknowledged by the psychiatrists as a specific diagnosable problem among the youthful girls being victimised by sexual harassment.
Inspite of having the guidelines laid down in the celebrated judgment delivered in the case of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, (1997) 6 SCC 241, there still seems no conspicuous relief as recently when an intern alleged a case of sexual harassment against a Judge, the committee which was constituted to inquire into the matter failed to adhere to the guidelines according to which it should have comprised of majority of women members but sadly there was just one woman member. Moreover, mere formation of committee is not the need of the hour but the promptness and diligence in their conduct is what that matters.
To tackle such problems, several colleges have begun to draft a special policy containing rules and regulations in this regard so as to combat sexual harassment during internships and aid those who get victimized and also encourage them to lodge complaints without any inhibitions. The same policy should be followed by other colleges and universities as well to repose the confidence of the law students and their families into the system. In addition to this, the “Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2013” should also be amended adequately so as to include the interns too under its ambit and should be made gender neutral because it might be committed against anybody irrespective of their sex. Thus, everyone has a right to be protected under the law.
Above all, these incidents should not deter anybody from pursuing internships rather those who face it should embolden themselves and report them as timely as possible against such perpetrators no matter which fraternity they belong to without paying any heed to repercussions because if such incidents go unreported and unnoticed then there is more likelihood of worse repercussions in the future.
About the Author
Shakha Jha is a IV Year law student pursuing B.A. LL.B. from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She is keenly interested in researching on varied subjects. She also holds a diploma in Intellectual Property Laws and has authored four papers. She is presently working as a Research Associate with Alexis Department of Public Policy.