Supreme Court of India
Vishakha & ors. V. State Of Rajasthan & ors.
[(1997) 6 SCC 241]
Petitioners in the case – Vishakha and Ors.
Respondents in the case – The state of Rajasthan and Ors.
Background of the Case –
Vishaka and Ors. v State of Rajasthan was a 1997 Indian Supreme Court case where various women’s groups led by Naina Kapur and her organisation, Sakshi filed Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the state of Rajasthan and the Central Government of India to enforce the fundamental rights of working women under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India. The petition was filed after Bhanwari Devi, a social worker in Rajasthan, was brutally gang raped for stopping a child marriage.
Nature of the case –
Gender equality finds place in Fundamental rights enshrined under Article 14, 19 and 21 . Sexual harassment at work place is a clear violation of gender equality which in turn violates these integral rights of the female class.
Sections and Articles
- Article 14 : Equality before the law
- Article 15 : Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, and birth.
- Article 19(1)(g) : Right to practice one’s profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade, or business.
- Article 21 : Right to life and personal liberty.
- Bhanwari Devi who was a social activist /worker in one of Rajasthan’s villages.
- She worked under a social development program at rural level which was about to stop child marriage in a village and this social program was administered/ initiated by the Rajasthan state government.
- Bhanwari Devi en-devoured to stop the marriage of the Ramkaran Gujjars daughter, who was merely less than one year old i.e., she was an infant only.
- As a part of her duty, Bhanwari Devi tried to terminate the marriage of Ramkaran Gujjar’s infant daughter.
- But the marriage took place.
- She was exposed to or put forward to social punishment or boycott.
- September 1992, she was gang raped by Ramkaran Gujjar and his five friends in front of her husband.
- The male doctor at normal primary health center declined to survey her and the doctor at Jaipur only made confirmation of her age without any recommendation of her being raped in her medical report.
- At the police station too she was being continuously taunted by the women constable for the entire midnight.
- At midnight she was asked by the policeman to leave her lehenga as evidence of that incident and go back to her village.
- After that, she was only left with the bloodstained dhoti of her husband to wrap her body, as a result of which they had to spend their whole night in that police station.
- The Trial Court made the discharge of the accused people for not being guilty.
- The High Court in his judgement propounded that it was a case of gang rape which was conducted out of revengeful situation.
- All these statements and judgements, arose women and NGOs to file petition (PIL) in Supreme Court of India.
Issues raised in this case
- Whether, the enactment of guidelines are mandatory for the redressal of sexual harassment of women at workplace.
- Whether employer has any responsibility for sexual harassment by its employees.
- Whether employer has any responsibility for sexual harassment of its employees.
Features of vishaka guidelines
- Definition of sexual harassment.
- Provide a safer working environment.
- Duty of the employer to file a complaint.
- Complaint redressal committee.
- Employer to assist the employee if she is sexually harassed.
- Duty of employer to spread awareness.
The judgment of Vishakha’s case was conveyed by Chief Justice J.S Verma as a representative of Justice Sujata Manihar and Justice B.N Kripal on account of writ petition which was filed by Vishakha i.e. the victim of this case. The court observed that the fundamental rights under Article 14, 19(1)(g) and 21of the Constitution of India that every profession, trade or occupation should provide a safe working environment to the employees. It hampered the right to life and the right to live a dignified life. The court also decided that the consideration of “International Conventions and norms are significant for the purpose of interpretation of the guarantee of gender equality, right to work with human dignity in Articles 14, 15 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution and the safeguards against sexual harassment implicit therein. The basic requirement was that there should be the availability of a safe working environment at the workplace.
The Supreme Court held that, women have fundamental rights towards the freedom of sexual harassment at workplace. It also put forward various important guidelines for the employees to follow them and avoid sexual harassment of women at workplace. The court also suggested to have proper techniques for the implementation of cases where there is sexual harassment at workplace. The main aim/objective of the Supreme Court was to ensure gender equality among people and also to ensure that there should be no discrimination towards women at their workplace.
After this case, the Supreme Court made the term Sexual harassment well defined, accordingly “any physical touch or conduct, showing of pornography, any unpleasant taunt or misbehavior, or any sexual desire towards women, or any other unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature, sexual favor will come under the ambit of sexual harassment“.
The Supreme Court of India’s judgement only proposed guidelines to alleviate the problem of sexual harassment in 1997. India finally enacted its law on prevention of sexual harassment against female employees at the workplace. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“Sexual Harassment Act”) has been made effective on 23 April 2013 by way of publication in the Gazette of India.
In the case of Vishakha & others v/s the state of Rajasthan , the Supreme Court specifically underlined the definition of Sexual Harassment, which conveys any unwanted or uninvited physical touch or conduct or showing of pornography or any definable sexual comments or texts will come under the ambit of Sexual Harassment. In India, it can be determined from the following acts like- passing of indicative or typical comments or jokes, uninvited touching, making appeals for sex, sexually blunt pictures or text messages or emails, discredit person because of sex.
According to me any such conduct done directly or indirectly both hampers the right of women to life and it also affects their dignity to live. It also hinders the mental and physical health of women as “while a murderer destroys the physical frame of the victim, on the other hand the rapist defiles the soul of a helpless female”. Sexual harassment shall be avoided and the equality between the genders shall be established at workplace.
The Supreme Court held out guidelines that, the person-in-charge of the particular institution, organization or office whether be it private or public, will be responsible in taking effective steps to prevent sexual harassment. Penalties shall be charged from the accused people for conducting sexual harassment. It had become a very crucial topic to act upon for the prevention of sexual harassment of women at workplace. In case of private companies, the strict rules regarding the punishment of sexual harassment shall be included. In case the sexual harassment is conducted by the outsiders, the person-in charge of that institution must take strict action for the conduct of such crime. And when these strict rules and regulations are fully established, only then can it be seen as a significant legal victory for women’s groups in India. Moreover, new measures and innovative steps should be adopted at workplaces by the employer in order to safeguard the women employees from such harassments by opting to provide reasonable work hours (such as avoiding late working hours for women employees) and establishing CCTV cameras at the workplace in order to keep an eye over the working environment and also as a proof in case where evidences are required to provide justice.
However, the employer can also ensure to provide transportation facilities for their women employees as a preventive step not only in the premises of the workplace but also outside the premises as an additional advantage or service for its women employees.
Sexual Harassment of women at workplace happens at a very frequent rate in India. If any strict action will not be taken towards this crime, it will directly hamper the working ratio of the women in India and on other hand it will hamper the economic situation of India. Government should make strict laws regarding the aversion of sexual harassment at workplace, because it should realize that, women also constitute to the working population of our country. It should be abolished to prevent the dignity and the respect of women. However, the institutions/organizations should also take strict actions against the employees who commit such humiliating and illegal acts of crime that result in disrespect of women. Such employees should be immediately terminated and police reports or any such legal step should also be taken on part of the employer for such Various new approaches and skills shall be implemented by the institutions, organizations to prevent their women employees from such a social evil. The main objective behind the stabilization of this right is to promote gender equality at workplace without any kind of discrimination and discernment among the workers of an organization.