#MeToo: Will the accused celebrities be brought to book? A look at legal framework

New Delhi: In last few days, the spate of allegations against many celebrity figures and male counterparts by several women at the workplace has ignited a debate across the country and given rise to the popular #MeToo movement.

The constant stream of allegations brought many well-known figures from diverse fields including film stars, media personalities and corporate leaders under the scanner. Now, there is a pressing demand to act against the accused, with victims and social activists making a clarion call to bring the predators to book.

The spate of allegations has brought many well-known figures from diverse fields including film stars, media personalities and corporate leaders under scrutiny.

But, the question arises – are the #MeToo allegations/complaints with police legally tenable? Will it hold water and will those outraging the modesty of women at workplace be punished for their pervert acts?

Despite many women narrating their harrowing tale of sexual harassment at the workplace, the present law seems not enough to bring perpetrators to justice. Though, a few influential ones have been forced to step down from their positions.

Procedure and Limitations of filing case

“The Me Too accusations appearing in the media and the police complaints would not be legally tenable and thus the charges may not stand in court,” Sudhanshu Chandra and Akshay Kumar, two advocates of Supreme Court have written in the website ‘Bar and Bench’.

However, there is no time limitation for making accusations of sexual harassment, they said.

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As far as filing of criminal complaints against accused is concerned, there is a period of limitation prescribed under the law.

According to Section 468 (2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the limitation for taking cognizance of such complaints is as follows:

(a) six months, if the offence is punishable with fine only

(b) one year, if the offence is punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year;

(c) three years, if the offence is punishable with imprisonment for term exceeding one year but not exceeding three years.

Exile or Jail for #MeToo accused?

The #MeToo movement saw women breaking their silence about abuse at workplace by the ‘men in power’, following which string of cases and complaints were filed against the perpetrators. However, their prosecution and sentencing for the offence is still a matter of debate.

Mostly, the accusations against many celeb figures are 10, 20 or 30 years old. Many were limited to social media, however, some indeed went ahead and filed criminal complaint.

But, the catch is that such criminal complaints can be filed under Sections 354, 354A, 354B, 354C, 354D and 509 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). And, these sections were inserted in the IPC only in the year 2013.

This means complaints under these sections cannot filed for an incident that took place before 2013. Incidentally, many of the #MeToo accusations date back to a period much before 2013.

Only Workplace purge, No punishment?

Talking about a few examples – Tanushree Dutta’s accusations against Nana Patekar date back to 2008. But, as per existing legal framework, the film body has already shown its reluctance in lodging a complaint claiming that its rulebook forbids probing any incident which happened more than 3 years ago.

Similarly, accusation against former Union Minister MJ Akbar by journalist Ghazala Wahab dates back to 1997. It seems the woman scribe hasn’t filed any police complaint yet. Her accusations make clear case for police complaint under Section 354 and 509 IPC but again the time limitation would restrict it unless court permits condonation of delay.

Though facing intense media scrutiny and public outrage, MJ Akbar was forced to step down.

Looking at the way #MeToo movement panned out, it appears that sending the accused behind bars may be a far cry for now but the movement succeeded in creating a momentum in naming and shaming the alleged perpetrators. Many revered and celebrated public figures became the devil overnight after women ‘exposed’ their dirty tactics.

The #MeToo movement has certainly emboldened the women at workplace to be more confident, protective and vocal about their rights. Moreover, it will create more respect and dignity for them at workplaces.

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