What is inappropriate touching? Is it a form of sexual harassment?

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What is inappropriate touching? Is it a form of sexual harassment?

It is important for people to know what exactly could outrage their modesty, and how they should punish the offenders.

It is a pity that most of us in our country are never even taught to differentiate between good and bad touch, as part of our childhood grooming, let alone having an open discussion about matters related to sex or harassment.

What it leads to, in turn, is a confused reception by the victim, of any form of sexually inappropriate behaviour. In fact, there are people who do not even recognise sexual harassment initially, even after being subjected to it.

With the continuous onslaught of patriarchal power-play pervading the world, spreading awareness about any form of sexually inappropriate conduct is extremely necessary.

Be it at office, at home or a public place, women and men, for instance, often find themselves being touched inappropriately.

How does one identify inappropriate touching?

A case in point could be how a young Bollywood actress was allegedly harassed by a co-passenger in a flight. The man, who was sitting behind the actress, was accused of ''brushing against'' her back while she was half asleep.

Such behaviour, if intentional, surely classifies as a form of inappropriate touching.

Most people, especially women, have often found themselves being groped in public places; somebody standing behind you might brush against or stick to your back; some might even try to touch a woman's breasts or genitals. All of these are examples of gross misconduct.

Also Read:Right to Know: How to identify sexual workplace harassment

Unfortunately, it is not always a co-passenger who is guilty of inappropriate touching. Even people you know closely or work with might end up violating you. Any form of touch that makes you feel uncomfortable--for instance, if someone attempts to forcefully hold your hand or any other part of the body, or even tries to hug you without your consent--can be termed as inappropriate touching.

Does inappropriate touching classify as sexual harassment?

Vishaka Guidelines have defined ''physical contact and advances'' and ''any other unwelcome physical...non-verbal conduct of sexual nature'' as forms of sexual harassment. Hence, this can include inappropriate touching as well. And that holds true not only for a workplace but even at places outside office.

But is such behaviour punishable by law?

According to Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), any form of behaviour ''intending to outrage her (a woman's) modesty or knowing it likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.''

Also Read:5 things you must never say to a person who decides to open up about sexual harassment

Section 294 of IPC also mentions that ''whoever, to the annoyance of others, (a) does any obscene act in any public place... shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term that may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both. This provision is included in Chapter XVI entitled ' Of Offences Affecting Public Health, Safety, Convenience and Morals' and is cognisable, bailable and triable by any magistrate.''

Unfortunately, victims of sexual harassment have always been cajoled into maintaining silence about their perpetrators, as a means of protecting their ''honour.'' And that is not surprising since a lot of people continue to be judgemental about them even today.

The only thing that we need to do now is to break our silence, confront such harassers and take adequate steps to punish them, without fearing about the consequences.