Vishaka and Ors. Vs. State of Rajasthan and Ors.

Vishaka and Ors. Vs. State of Rajasthan and Ors.

Full Case Name:  Vishaka and Ors. Vs. State of Rajasthan and Ors.

Decided on: 13 August 1997

Citation:  AIR 1997 SC 3011

Judges Involved:

  1. Chief Justice JS Verma
  2. Justice Sujata Manohar
  3. Justice BN Kirpal

Issue Raised:  

Whether, the enactment of guidelines mandatory for the repudment of sexual harassment of women at workplace.

Introduction

In the history of world politics, the initiator tag of Women rights is enshrined to the civil and women right movements in America in the late 60s. Whereas in Indian history, women have been considered a significant pillar of societal demography since the very advent of civilization. Traces of the same can be found in the Indian history and mythology, where women have played one of the most important roles and have been regarded as goddesses as well. In spite of Indian women getting civil rights in the mid-20th century, the ground situation has been totally antipodal.

Today, women, even after being financially, socially independent, face numerous problems like (sexual) harassment, inequality, biasness, discrimination etc. at the workplace. The issue of Sexual Harassment has always been a Homeric problem, and a huge barrier to the movement of women empowerment. The fact that women’s safety and empowerment is one of the pivotal subjects for a country, is widely prominent and almost everyone is familiar with it, but the entire scenario revamped after an incident of 1992, commonly known as the Vishaka Case, which demanded more importance to be given to the incidents of Sexual Harassment at workplace.

Facts

The incident dates back to the year 1985. A lady, Bhanwari Devi, was employed as a village level social worker, known as ‘Saathin’ working for the Women’s Development Project (WDP) run by the Government of Rajasthan. Her work also involved reporting child marriages to the authorities so that they could be stopped and people could be educated about the same.

While being involved in the same, one particular case, which happened to be the marriage of a one-year old infant in Ramakant Gujjar’s family. Despite trying her best to stop the marriage, the marriage was successful through the massive protest.

Therefore, in 1992, to seek vengeance upon her, Ramakant Gujjar, along with his 5 men, raped her brutally in front of her husband at her workplace.

What added to her misery was the non-coperative police department, who, at first tried, to dissuade them from filing the case on one pretext or other. However being determined, she lodged a complaint against the Gujjars.

The police department, crossing all the limits of dehumanizing her, demanded her Lehenga(a lower body apperal)right on spot as evidence in the case, which left her with nothing but her husband’s blood stained Dhoti to hide her body. Their request to spend the night in the police station was also ejected, exposing them to higher life threatening risks.

Despite the accused being acquitted by the trial court due to lack of evidence, She didn’t lose hope and kept raising her voice at higher platforms, which inspired many organizations and female social workers to support her in the cause. Conjointly, they all filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India under the name ‘Vishaka’.

Decision of the Supreme Court

While delivering the ruling, the three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Verma, Justice Sujata V. Manohar and Justice B.N. Kripal observed that

 “Each such incident ends up in violation of the basic rights of ‘Gender Equality’ and therefore the ‘Right of Life and Liberty’… A legal document of writ in such a scenario, if it’s to be effective, must be in the midst of directions for prevention; because the violation of basic rights of this sort could be a revenant development. the basic right to hold on any occupation, trade or profession depends on the supply of a secure operating surroundings. Right to life suggests that life with dignity. the first responsibility for guaranteeing such “safety” and dignity through appropriate legislation, and therefore the creation of a mechanism for its social control, is of the general assembly and therefore the executive”

The Supreme Court’s analysis of the case recognizes Sexual Harassment of women at workplace as a violation of the following human rights of women:

  • Article 14: Equality before the law
  • Article 15: Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of 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

The 3 judge Supreme Court bench also referred to the case of Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa in reaching to the well concluded judgement.

In particular, the Court referred to India’s ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which has prohibited discrimination in the workplace and outlines specific state obligations to end it under its Article 11(1) (a, f) and Article 24, with addition of General Recommendation number 19 which provides for ways to eliminate  violence against women.

VISHAKA GUIDELINES, 1997

In the vishaka judgment, the Court also doled out a set of guidelines for employers or authorities in any institution to immediately ensure the prevention of sexual harassment. In accordance with the Article 141 of the Constitution of India, these guidelines were to be considered law until appropriate legislation was created: –

  • Sexual Harassment was defined as unwelcomed sexually determined behaviour as physical sexual contact, sexual favour, sexual remarks, pornographic content and also verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexually blunt nature.
  • Sexual Harassment at workplace should be always informed, produced & circulated
  • Whenever a sexual harassment takes place which amounts to a specific offence under law, the employer should take action by complaining about the same to the appropriate authority.
  • An appropriate mechanism of prevention shall be created for redressal of the complaint with capable people in place.

 

SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT WORKPLACE (PREVENTION, PROHIBITION AND REDRESSAL) ACT, 2013

The public outrage regarding the Delhi gang rape case woke the government up, after 17 long years to enact a law after the Supreme Court set the guidelines in 1997.

  • The Act includes several provisions of the Vishaka Guidelines, that 1st required the formulation of “a code of conduct for work place”. Building on the Vishaka Guidelines, the Act implies the formation of an interior complaints committee and an area complaints committee at the district level for better disposal of complaints.
  • The Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 seeks to guard women from harassment at their place of work in a comparatively bigger ambit.
  • Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath introduced the Bill  in 2007 and it was approved by the Cabinet Union in Jan 2010. it had been tabled within the Lok Sabha in Dec 2010 and observed the Parliamentary commission on Human Resources Development. The committee’s report was printed in November 2011.
  • In 2012, Domestic Employees were also shadowed under the umbrella of the bill. After elapsing in the Rajya Sabha, the bill got the accent of the then President of India, Pranab Mukharjee to eventually come into force in December 2013.

ALSO READ : RAPE LAW IN INDIA: LOOPHOLES OF RAPE LAW

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

Despite being a silver lining in the vast history of the Indian women’s harassment, the act still comes with several flaws.

Primarily, the act fails to include the women working in majorly men-dominated fields, like the agricultural sector or the defense forces.

Secondarily, the act prima facie seems biased since its provisions are exclusively for women, leaving men out of the ambit of it’s protection.

 Being highly biased, the act also leaves a room for cases of false allegations, which is currently a growing problem in India. Women can misuse the law for personal gains and advantages.

 

Conclusion:

Even after 50 years from independence, there was sternly any law to safeguard the  working women from sexual offences at the workplace, uncovering the bitter reality of the nation. It was and is still shameful that from numerous women who face sexual harassment at the workplace, only a few have the ability and the resources to raise their voice against it. Being one of the fastest developing nations, a safe working environment for women should be our primary platitude.

Although the court acted proactively in the case of Vishaka vs state of Rajasthan, being an epitome of Judicial Activism making it a landmark case for women empowerment in India, there’s still a long way to go in order to make India a safer place for women.

 In the end, it is of great significance for the reader to infer the best out of these golden words said by Aung San Suu Kyi

“In societies where men are truly confident of their own worth, women are not merely tolerated but valued.”

 

-Mrutyunjay Saramandal

(Writer, The Legal State)

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