About the Author:
Priyanshu Parasar is a law student in LLOYD LAW College, Greater Noida.
Petitioner: Vishakha & Ors.
Respondent: State of Rajasthan & Ors.
Citation: (1997) 6 SCC 241
Date of Judgment: 13/08/1997
Bench: J.S. Verma C.J., Sujata V. Manohar & B.N. Kirpal JJ.
This case commentary on “Vishakha v State of Rajasthan & Ors” discusses the condition of women and sexual harassment they face at their workplace. This article will introduce you in brief, the changing conditions of the women in Indian society with help of a case of sexual harassment at workplace, and it will explain the meaning of sexual harassment in brief. Further, it will discuss about the facts and issues of this case. It includes the decision held by the Apex Court and will discuss the Vishakha Guidelines laid down by the court. Proceeding further, the author has explained his views on the judgment and at the last have concluded with suggesting some steps to reduce this kind of harassment with women at workplace.
In ancient India, women were treated as Goddesses and were worshipped as Goddess- Laxmi, Durga and Parvati but today, the situation is totally different. Gender inequality and sexual harassment are some of the problems faced by women all over the world but the condition of women in India is really disgusting. Although women are self-dependent and are also holding high positions yet harassment, discrimination, and inequality are some problems they frequently face at workplace.
Vishakha & Ors v State of Rajasthan & Ors. (1997) 6 SCC 241 is a landmark judgment on sexual harassment decided by Supreme Court of India. The case dealt with the evil of sexual harassment of women at their workplace. This case is popularly known as vishakha case, through this case the Apex Court laid down Vishakha Guidelines aimed at restraining sexual harassment at workplace.
Sexual harassment is an uninvited sexual advance, unwelcome and inappropriate request for sexual favors or other uninvited conduct of a sexual nature with an opposite gender which makes the person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated, where a reasonable person would anticipate that reaction in the circumstances.[i]
Sexual harassment is a violation of Article 14 and Article 21 both, where the former grants Right to equality including gender equality and latter grants Right to life which includes Right to live with human dignity.
Bhanwari Devi, a social worker, was working in one of the villages of Rajasthan in a social development programme at grassroots level to prohibit child marriage in villages. The present case ensued when she once tried to stop the marriage of one Ram Karan Gujjar’sdaughter, who was a minor at that time. Despite her efforts, the marriage took place. In retaliation to her endeavors to stop the marriage, in September of 1992, she was gang- raped and sexually assaulted by Ram Karan Gujjar and his five companions in front of her husband.
The male doctor at the primary health center refused to examine her after the rape and assault whereas the doctors at Jaipur were so negligent that they only made confirmation of her age without making any recommendations as of her being raped in their medical report. When they went to file a criminal complaint of the accused before the police, she was taunted by a female police personnel for almost the whole of midnight. All the limits crossed, when she was asked to leave her clothes as evidence of the incident and return to her home. She did the same and was left with just her husband’s bloodstained dhoti to cover up her body.
The trial court and the High Court acquitted the accused but she did not lose her hope and seeing her determination other female social workers decided to stand with her, they filed a writ petition in Supreme Court under a name ‘Vishakha’ and SC examined the issue strictly.
# Whether or not it is mandatory for enacting guidelines for prevention of sexual harassment of women at workplace?
CONTENTIONS OF THE PETITIONER:
The writ petition filed by the petitioners contends that sexual harassment at workplace is common and employers easily gets away due to lack of legislation. In their argument they pulled the attention of the Hon’ble Court towards the violation of Article 14, 15, 19(1)(g) and 21 of the constitution because of sexual harassment against women at their workplace. They urged the Hon’ble Supreme Court to frame guidelines against sexual harassment at the workplace.
CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENT:
This case was among some of the rarest cases, where the Solicitor General appearing on the behalf of the respondent, supported the arguments of the petitioners. The respondent assisted the Hon’ble court in figuring out an effective method to curb sexual harassment and in structuring the guidelines for the prevention of the same. Fali S. Nariman – the amicus curiae of the Hon’ble court along with Ms. Naina Kapur and Ms. Meenakshi provided assistance to the Hon’ble court in dealing with the said case.
The judgment in this case was given by former Chief Justice JS Verma as a representative of Justice BN Kirpal and Justice Sujhata Manohar on account of the writ petition which was filed by different NGOs along with the victim.
The court observed that sexual harassment at workplace is a clear violation of gender equality which in turn violates these integral rights of the female. The court also observed that, under Article 14[ii], Article 19(1) (g)[iii] and Article 21[iv], it is a fundamental right of working women to carry on any profession, trade or occupation and it is the duty of the employer to provide a safe working environment to its employees at the workplace. It is noted here that, Right to life means Right to life with dignity and strength. The basic requirement was that there should be the availability of a safe working environment for employee at the workplace.
The Apex Court in this case, held that women have a fundamental right to be free from sexual harassment at their workplace and there should be a sexual code and there should be proper mechanism to enforce cases, which fall under the ambit of this sexual harassment code. The main purpose of this code is to avoid discrimination and harassment against women at their workplace and bring equality among these two genders.
The counsel stated that the guidelines for the sexual harassment code at workplace are to be treated as a declaration of law in line with Article 141 of the constitution. These rights must not be supported prejudices against any right accessible under the protection of Human Rights Act 1993.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court gave the definition of sexual harassment in a wider context by defining it as “an uninvited sexually determined behavior direct or indirect in the form of physical contact, demanding sexual favors, showing pornography, sexually color remarks, making sexual gestures, passing sexual comments, or any other uninvited physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature”.
GUIDELINES LAID DOWN IN THIS CASE:
The Apex Court during this case, seeing necessity to prevent sexual harassment against women at workplace laid down some guidelines referred to as “Vishakha Guidelines”. These guidelines are:-
- It is the duty of the employers or the answerable authorities to produce conciliary and safety facilities to their employees and are bound to prevent occurence of such incidents in their organization.
- It is the obligation of the employer to make sure that all the rules in relation to this are to be notified to all the employees along with action consequences of their act. The provision for the inclusion of penalty is also to be added. The court further held that the duty to ensure a stress free environment in the workplace is that of the employer of the organization.
- Employer has obligation to notify the prohibition of sexual harassment and there must be rules and regulation to prohibit this evil.
- Immediate remedy must be given to the victim instead of giving an option to transfer the accused to the other place.
- There should be sexual code at every workplace and have proper mechanism to cope with cases like sexual harassment and every employee have right to raise their voice against any kind of issues.
- There shall be a complaint committee which must have some reservation for women, to handle these types of cases and immediate action can be taken against the accused.
- The governing bodies were advised to maintain cooperation and implement laws that will be prolific for the development.
- These guidelines are in accordance with the Protection of Human Right Act, 1993.
In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court gave the broad definition of sexual harassment and defined it as any uninvited or unwanted kind of immoral conduct, or word spoken which are against the chastity of women. This kind of conduct directly hampers the right of women to life and it also affects their dignity as human beings. It drastically affects the mental as well as physical health of women.
The court further said that, the act of sexual harassment violates the fundamental Right of women granted in Article 14, Article 19(1) (g) and Article 21 of constitution of India. This judgment was upheld in the case of Medha Kotwal Lele and Ors. V UOI and Ors[v], Hon’ble Supreme Court ordered the states to adopt additional measures to adopt this guidelines within timeframe of two months. On guidelines proposed by the Hon’ble Court, India finally enacted “The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 to protect women from sexual harassment at their workplace and this act came into effect from 23 April, 2013.
This judgment inspired law reforms against sexual harassment in other South Asian countries; as Supreme Court of Bangladesh in a verdict cited vishakha guidelines and held that sexual harassment at workplace is failure on the part of the government in taking action against these crimes through law.
We see a rise in gender equality in terms of employment after 1991. Prior to that, there was not much need for any law related to this, so there were not many laws for the protection of employees at the workplace. Gradually an increase in these kinds of offences against women were seen, but there was no law to prevent and punish commission of such offences therefore, majority of the incidents went unreported and hence unpunished. It was only in 1997, when there was a proper rule with punishment for the accused.
There are n- number of false cases against men, harassing their women colleagues at the workplace. Some females are using these Rights to lower somebody’s reputation and to take revenge too. Delhi High Court in a case said that women can’t always be treated as “innocent gullible victims”[vi] in all the cases. In this case a woman was found ‘lying’ about sexual harassment by her employer. Finding the increasing cases of fallacious FIRs of rape and other sexual crimes, the court noted that stereotyping women as “innocent gullible victims” altogether situations is not correct and such false cases ought to be dealt harshly.
Vishakha case is a landmark case in the history of sexual harassment and the guidelines laid down in this case are necessary in today’s context. The main objective behind the stabilization of these rules is to promote gender equality at the workplace without any kind of discrimination and discernment among the workers of an organization.
These days, we see an increase in the number of these kinds of cases against women at their workplace and to stop this, strict law must be there. It should be realized that women workers contributes a remarkable portion in the country’s development and it is government’s duty to make separate laws for them.
At the same time it is equally important to have a sound redressal mechanism so that immediate action can be taken and should have proper investigation before punishing the accused, so that innocent have not to suffer. Though we have enacted law for safety of women at their workplace, it is cardinal to acknowledge that condition of women will not improve much, until and unless we as responsible citizen of our country does not aware of our responsibility towards the society.
[ii] Article 14 ( Right to Equality)
[iii] Article 19(1)(g) (Right to practice one’s profession)
[iv] Article 21 (Right to Life)
[v] (2012) INSC 643
[vi] State v Shri Jitendra Prakash Shrivastav & ors. UID- 1190/2016