Feb 02,2023 | 9 min read

Man or Woman, Everyone is Human: Need for Gender Neutral Sexual Harassment Laws in India

“Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another”. - Thomas Paine.

There has been much ado about equality and equal rights. As a society rooted in patriarchal thoughts, it is but natural to believe that men are strong and cannot be victims of harassment. However, that is far from the truth.

Take the case of Vijay Nair, Founder of Only Much Louder. He was cyberstalked, received sexually explicit messages from an anonymous person. Not only him, but the stalker also sent messages to his colleagues, friends and clients. When he finally identified the stalker, it turned out to be a woman he was acquainted with.[1] He is not alone. Men are stalked, harassed and sexually assaulted. Contrary to societal beliefs, women too can be offenders. Neither do such men have a legal recourse, nor receive emotional support from their social circle. Many refrain from reporting such incidents and consequently, there is little statistics on this issue. If one gender is protected, why not all? What is the rationale in not criminalizing sexual offences committed by a woman against a man?

I recall a case when a male colleague complained to his manager about a female colleague sexually harassing him. But the manager was clueless – the law only protects women from sexual harassment at workplace. Having a gender-neutral policy preventing sexual harassment at workplace does no good in the absence of laws on the subject.

As early as 2011, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development in its 239th Report[2], which deliberated on the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010 (PoSH) suggested that provisions to tackle sexual harassment of men at workplace also be explored. A decade and progressive judicial advancements since then, this still remains a suggestion on paper.

Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 is a gender-neutral law, which recognises that boys too can be victims of sexual abuse. However, POCSO applies to children under the age of 18. The first gender neutral sexual harassment law in India is the UGC (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations 2015. However, these legislations cover a small percentage of the society. As a society with growing diversity in terms of sexual identities and gender expressions, coupled with the constant advocacy for equality, one wonders – are we in fact an equal society?

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 aims to end discrimination against transgender persons in accessing education, employment and healthcare. It also recognises the right to self-perceived gender identity of individuals. In terms of the judgment of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in the case of Anamika vs. Union of India[3], it would appear that a transgender woman is protected under the PoSH Act, 2013. This begs the question – where has the discrimination ended if protection is granted only to trans-women?

One forgets that there is always a power play in an abuse – and power is seldom defined by one’s gender. The argument that a gender-neutral law provides an opportunity (for men) to file false complaints against women is a feeble excuse to deny them the protection they deserve as much as anyone else. A victim not only feels their dignity is violated but faces psychological issues attributable to the trauma faced at the hands of the offender. Studies reveal a myriad of psychological effects of violence against men, including feeling of anger, depression, shame, helplessness and hurt.

With changing times, it is imperative to re-look into the laws which are based on archaic thoughts. There is an urgent need to stop sexual harassment – regardless of gender or sexual orientation. As they say, scars are not always physical.


[1] https://www.huffpost.com/archive/in/entry/when-vijay-nair-unmasked-his-vicious-cyberstalker-the-story-tur_in_5c11f327e4b0295df1fa44e6

[2] https://prsindia.org/files/bills_acts/bills_parliament/2010/SCR_Protection_of_Women.pdf

[3] W.P.(CRL) 2537/2018, Order dated 17 December 2018

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Madhumitha Srinivasan

Madhumitha has over 9 years experience and focuses on civil and commercial litigation, arbitration and insolvency related issues. She has handled disputes across industries and appears before various forums such as High Court, City Courts and NCLT. She also advises clients in negotiating and structuring commercial agreements, conducting due diligence and preparing definitive agreements. Madhumitha is trained in mediation.