Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan: Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace

Vishaka & Ors. v State of Rajasthan (1997) 6 SCC 241 is a milestone judgment given by the honorable Supreme Court of India that deals with aspects of sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The supreme court formulated the very famous Vishaka guidelines and made it mandatory for both private and public sectors to establish mechanisms to redress sexual harassment complaints. The Judgment was delivered by the bench Chief Justice J.S. Verma, Justice Sujata V. Manohar, And Justice B.N. Kirpal.

Facts of the Case:

It all started when Banwari Devi, a social worker in a program to prevent child marriages, intervened to prevent child marriage in an influential Gujjar family. While Banwari Devi did an admirable job despite the protests, the family was hell-bent on vengeance. Ramakant Gujjar and five of his men gang-raped her in front of her husband in a brutal manner. Her subsequent attempt to file a police report was met with apathy for a long time, and once she did, she was subjected to further stigma and cruelty. The trial court acquitted the accused due to a lack of evidence, but Banwari Devi and a sympathizer filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court.

Issues raised:

  1. If formal guidelines were required to deal with incidents involving sexual harassment in the workplace? 
  2. Whether sexual harassment at the workplace amounts to the violation of the fundamental rights of a woman? 
  3. If the employer has any responsibility in cases of sexual harassment by its employee or to its employees at a workplace?

Judgment Review:

The Court in this case, observed that sexual harassment at the workplace was violative of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution under Articles 14, 16, 19, and 21. The Court further defined sexual harassment as unwelcome “sexually determined behavior (whether directly or indirectly) like physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favors, sexually colored remarks, showing pornography, or any other unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature”. The Court opined that it is deemed to be discriminatory when the woman believes that objecting to sexual harassment would disadvantage her in her employment in terms of recruiting or promotion or the creation of a hostile work environment. 

As a result, sexual harassment does not have to include physical contact. Sexual harassment can be defined as any act that creates a hostile work environment, such as cracking lewd jokes, verbal abuse, spreading rumors, and so on.

Vishaka Guidelines:

  1. Employers should take preventive measures like an express preclusion of harassment and provide healthy work conditions in matters of hygiene, comfort, and health. 
  2. If there is an event of the infringement of administration rules in the workplace, suitable disciplinary action should be taken. 
  3. If the offenses submitted fall under the domain of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the employer must report them to the authorities.
  4. An organization should have a redressal committee to address harassment. This should be independent of the way that the demonstration establishes an offense under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, or some other law. Such a committee must have women as more than half of its members, and its head must also be a woman, including a counseling facility. A report must also be sent to the government annually on the development of the committee.
  5. The business should take proper measures to spread awareness on the said issue.

The Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutional principles of equality and liberty in the Vishaka judgment. The Supreme Court of India’s decision merely proposed guidelines to address the issue of sexual harassment. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“Sexual Harassment Act”), which went into effect on April 23, 2013, was India’s first law addressing workplace sexual harassment. 

Click here to view the judgment

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