Vishaka & Ors. v State of Rajasthan & Ors.- Case Analysis

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Case title: Vishaka and others v State of Rajasthan & Ors.

Court: The Supreme Court of India

Citation: (1997) 6 SCC 241

Petitioner: Vishaka and Ors.

Respondent: The State Of Rajasthan and Ors.

INTRODUCTION

Vishaka & Ors. v. The State of Rajasthan & Ors[1] is a case that addresses the heinous crime of sexual harassment of a woman at the workplace. It is a watershed moment in the history of sexual harassment, as decided by the Supreme Court. Sexual Harassment is defined as an uninvited sexual favour or sexual gestures from one gender toward the other. Sexual harassment violates the fundamental right codified in Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, as well as the fundamental right to life and to live a dignified life, which is violated under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Vishaka & Ors. v The State of Rajasthan & Ors is a landmark judgment issued by the Supreme Court of India that addresses the issues of sexual harassment of women at the workplace. The Supreme Court issued the well-known Vishaka guidelines, requiring both the private and public sectors to establish mechanisms to address sexual harassment complaints.

BACKGROUND

Before 1997, there were no formal guidelines in India for how an employer should handle a sexual harassment incident at work. Women who experienced sexual harassment at work were required to file a complaint under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with the “criminal assault of women to outrage women’s modesty,” and Section 509, which gives appropriate punishment to an individual or individuals for using a “word, gesture, or act intended to insult a woman’s modesty.” The interpretation of ‘outraging women’s modesty’ was left to the discretion of the police officer in these sections. In the 1990s, a Gujjar landowner raped Bhanwari Devi, a Rajasthan civil servant who worked in a women’s development program and tried to keep children from marrying. Angry at her “engineer,” the feudal patriarchs decided to teach her a lesson and raped her repeatedly. The Rajasthan High Court did not provide justice to the rape victims, and the rape perpetrators were released. As a result, some women’s organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have petitioned the Supreme Court through the Vishaka collective platform. The Supreme Court of India acknowledged and paid attention to “the absence of domestic law occupying the field, to formulate effective measures to check the evil of sexual harassment of working women at all workplaces”.

ISSUES RAISED

1. Is sexual harassment at work, a violation of the right to gender inequality and the right to life and freedom?

2. Is the employer liable if sexual harassment is performed on/by an employee?

3. What if formal guidelines were required to deal with workplace sexual harassment incidents?

4. Does sexual harassment at work constitute a violation of a woman’s fundamental rights?

FACTS OF THE CASE

In 1985, Bhanwari Devi, a lady from Bhateri, Rajasthan, began working for the Government of Rajasthan’s Women’s Development Project (WDP). According to her job, Bhanwari took on an issue based on the government’s campaign against child marriage in 1992. The villagers were unaware of the situation and encouraged child marriage despite knowing it was illegal. Meanwhile, Ram Karan Gurjar’s family decided to conduct such a marriage for his infant daughter. Bhanwari attempted to persuade the family not to perform the marriage, but her efforts were futile. The marriage was approved by the family. On the 5th of May, 1992, the sub-divisional officer and the DSP went to the marriage and stopped it. However, the marriage was performed the following day, and no police action was taken against it. The villagers later discovered that the police visits were the result of Bhanwari Devi’s actions. As a result, Bhanwari Devi and her family were boycotted, and she lost her job. To exact vengeance, on September 22, 1992, five men, four from the Gurjar family along with another accomplice attacked Bhanwari Devi’s husband and gang-raped her. The police had tried everything they could to avoid filing a complaint against the accused, resulting in a delayed investigation. Even after receiving so much criticism, Bhanwari Devi was able to file a complaint due to her unwavering determination to obtain justice. The medical examination was postponed for 52 hours. However, the examiner did not mention any rape commission in the report, instead mentioned the victim’s age. All of the accused were acquitted in the Trial Court despite the lack of sufficient evidence and with the assistance of local MLA Dhanraj Meena. However, the acquittal sparked outrage among many female activists and organizations that supported Bhanwari. These organizations banded together to seek justice, resulting in the filing of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The PIL was submitted by a women’s rights organization called “Vishaka”. It focuses on the exercise of women’s basic rights in the workplace under Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950 and, needs to protect sexual harassment at the workplace.

EVALUATION OF THE CURRENT CASE

The Supreme Court of India, in the Vishaka Case, took a significant step toward women’s empowerment by issuing guidelines to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. In the absence of domestic law, the Hon’ble Court drew on various international conventions and laws, then linked them to the law of the land, giving birth to a new law entirely. The efforts made by the Indian judiciary in this case to protect women are commendable. The Vishaka Guidelines, issued by the Supreme Court, provided a solid legal foundation for all women to fight sexual harassment. The Vishaka case transformed the perception of sexual harassment cases as serious issues, as opposed to the past when such cases were regarded as trivial[2]. Assume a woman finally lands her dream job in a software company. Because of some reason, the woman is the victim of sexual harassment. She wants to go to the police station and file a complaint against the person who harassed her, but she decides not to. She is concerned that if she complains, she will be unable to continue working for the company because her family members will prevent her from doing so. Based on the Vishaka case, one can conclude that, while India attempted to overcome the social evils of gender inequality and sexual harassment by providing employment and legal provisions, it failed to take social responsibility for an equally safe working environment. Even with the law on our side to protect women, many incidents of sexual harassment occur regularly and go unreported.

VISHAKA GUIDELINES[3]

1. Employers should take preventive measures, such as explicitly prohibiting harassment, and providing healthy working conditions in terms of hygiene, comfort, and health.

2. If there is a violation of administrative rules in the workplace, appropriate disciplinary action should be taken.

3. If the submitted offences fall under the purview of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the employer is required to report them to the authorities.

4. To address harassment, an organisation should have a redressal committee. This should be regardless of whether the demonstration constitutes an offence under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, or another law. Such a committee must have more than half of its members be women, and its head must also be a woman, as well as a counselling facility. A report on the committee’s progress must also be sent to the government on an annual basis.

5. The company should take appropriate steps to raise awareness about the issue.

6. Sexual harassment is defined as any unwanted sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or indirectly) such as:

a) Physical contact and advances;

b) A demand or request for sexual favours;

c) Sexually coloured remarks;

d) Showing pornography; and

e) Any other unwanted physical, verbal, or nonverbal sexual conduct.

7. These guidelines will not jeopardise any of the rights guaranteed by the Protection of Human Rights Act of 1993[4].

8. The rules/regulations of government and public sector bodies relating to conduct and discipline should include rules/regulations prohibiting sexual harassment and provide for appropriate penalties against the offender in such rules. Private employers should take steps to include the aforementioned prohibitions in the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act of 1946[5].

9. Employer-employee meetings are required to address sexual harassment issues. The employer must take necessary measures to raise awareness about the issue.

RATIO DECIDENDI

Fundamental Rights enshrined in Articles 14, 19, and 21 of India’s constitution were violated vis-a-vis working women. With increased awareness and emphasis on gender justice, there is a greater effort to guard against such violations. The said heinous crime demonstrates the threats to a working woman to which she may be exposed, as well as the depravity to which sexual harassment can devolve. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India acknowledged the absence of a law that would prevent sexual harassment and provide women with a safe working environment. In any case of sexual harassment, Sections 354 and 354A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 were to be referred to. This made the Supreme Court realise the importance of enacting appropriate and effective legislation to address sexual harassment. As a result, such violations are subject to the remedy provided by Article 32[6] for the enforcement of women’s fundamental rights. Thus, the power of this Court under Article 32 to enforce fundamental rights and the Union’s executive power must meet the challenge of protecting working women from sexual harassment and making their fundamental rights measurably better. The Government of India also made a sanctioned commitment, among other effects, to develop and apply a national policy on women that will continuously guide and inform action at all situations and in all sectors; to establish a Commission for Women’s Rights[7] to act as a public protector of women’s moral rights, and to institutionalise a public position medium to cover Platform for Action perpetration.

CONCLUSION

In the Vishaka judgement, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutional principles of equality and liberty. 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”)[8], which went into effect on April 23, 2013, was India’s first law aimed at preventing sexual harassment against female employees at work. It is critical to note that, even though such comprehensive laws have been enacted to protect women in India, it still ranks as the most dangerous country for women. As a result, even if legislation does not exist, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure women’s safety and dignity.

REFERENCES

  1. https://main.sci.gov.in/jonew/judis/13856.pdf
  2. https://lawlex.org/lex-bulletin/case-summary-vishaka-others-vs-state-of-rajasthan/19202
  3. https://www.legalbites.in/vishaka-%26-ors-v-state-of-rajasthan-1997/
  4. https://blog.ipleaders.in/case-analysis-vishaka-ors-v-state-of-rajasthan-ors-1997-6-scc-241-landmark-case-on-sexual-harassment/
  1. (1997) 6 SCC 24

  2. IIIrd year, BA LLB (Hons.), National Law University, Delhi, e-mail: simran.jain@nludelhi.ac.in,VISHAKA GUIDELINES, https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/tag/vishaka-guidelines/

  3. Vishaka Guidelines against Sexual Harassment at Workplace,

    http://www.nitc.ac.in/app/webroot/img/upload/546896605.pdf

  4. The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, https://nhrc.nic.in/acts-&-rules/protection-human-rights-act-1993

  5. Https://Clc.Gov.In/Clc/Acts-Rules/Industrial-Employment-Standing-Orders-Act-1946

  6. Constitution Of India, Https://Legislative.Gov.In/Constitution-Of-India

  7. National Commission for Women, http://ncw.nic.in/

  8. The Sexual Harassment Of Women At Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition And Redressal) Act, 2013, Https://Legislative.Gov.In/Sites/Default/Files/A2013-14.Pdf