Vishaka Vs State of Rajasthan [(1997) 6 SCC 241] – Summery & Analysis

Introduction

Women are treated as Goddess in India. Is that so? Do we indeed think that women have achieved that position? It is the very worst and pathetic situation in India that despite worshipping the women like goddess, they are regular victims of brutal crimes in society. The society is so hypocrite in nature that it merely appraises the women and behind the veil is nothing but the lust to satisfy the bodily wants. Situation is more worsening when the newspapers are frequently filled with the articles of brutal crimes committed against the women to take revenge. This symbolizes that despite being in 21st century with much acclaimed technological advances, the mindset of the people in the society is still regressive and archaic in nature. The famous case of the Vishaka Vs State of Rajasthan is a classic example of how regressive mindset people of the society can destroy the harmony of the social fabric which is well-knitted through the provisions articulated in the Constitution of India Act, 1950.

Background Of The Case

A woman named Bhanwari Devi from Bhateri, Rajasthan was employed as a “Saathin” (friend) under the Women’s Development Project (WDP) run by the Government of Rajasthan, in the year 1985. In 1987, she gained full support for taking up the issue of attempted rape of a woman from the neighboring village.

She again took up an issue of child marriage in 1992 where she failed to draw confidence and support of the people, even though they were aware of the fact that child marriage is illegal. Abiding by the work assigned to her, she failed to explain the family to prevent the marriage. The intervention of the authorities failed, the marriage was held and she was boycotted from the village as they believed it was her action which brought the police into the scene.

She lost her job amid this boycott. To take revenge, 5 men attacked her husband and later brutally gang-raped her. The police officials did not take convergent steps to file complaint and the investigation was delayed. Later with her firm determination to get justice, she filed the complaint.

The medical examination was delayed for fifty-two hours with the fact that there was no mention of commission of rape in the report. All the accused were acquitted in the case due to lack of sufficient evidence in the trial court which backfired the authorities and the judicial system from different activists and organizations which resulted in filing of PIL by a women’s rights group known as ‘Vishaka’. The PIL drew attention on the enforcement of the fundamental rights of women at the Workplace under the provisions of Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India coupled with the issue of the need for protection of women from sexual harassment at Workplace.

A 3 Judges Bench consisting of the then Chief justice of India J.S. Verma and 2 other puisne Judges, Justice Sujata V Manohar and justice B.N. Kripal was constituted to hear the PIL and decide on the same. The Court appointed three amicus curiae Fali S. Nariman, Ms. Naina Kapur and Ms. Meenakshi to assist the Hon’ble court in dealing with the case.

Issues Raised In The Case Of Vishaka Vs State Of Rajasthan

The issues which were raised before the Hon’ble Court in the case of Vishaka & Ors. vs the State of Rajasthan & Ors are:

  1. Whether sexual harassment at workplace amounts to violation of the fundamental rights?
  2. Whether sexual harassment at workplace amounts to violation of the rights of gender inequality?
  3. Whether the courts are entitled to use the international laws in absence of any specific gender rights and gender inequality law?
  4. Whether the employer possesses any responsibility for the sexual harassment faced by its employees at the workplace?

Arguments For The Petitioners

In this instant case of Vishaka & Ors vs State of Rajasthan, the petitioners filed a writ petition, seeking the writ of mandamus by the ‘Vishaka’ group consisting of various women’s rights activists, NGOs, and other social activists. Their argument that the indecent acts of sexual harassment of women at Workplace violate the fundamental rights contained under Article14, 15, 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution of India.

The petitioners drew attention of the Hon’ble court to the existing loophole that the legislation has regarding the provision of a safe working environment for women. They requested the Hon’ble Court to frame guidelines for preventing sexual harassment at Workplace.

Arguments For The Defendants

The Ld. Solicitor General appearing on behalf of the respondents did something unusual. He supported the respondent. He assisted the court in decoding a strait jacket formula to build a structure for curbing out sexual harassment and framing guidelines for preventing sexual harassment at workplaces.

Judgment Of Vishaka Vs State Of Rajasthan

The lack of a law to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace was acknowledged by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. The court realized the need for proper and effective legislation that would deal with sexual harassment as Section 354 & 354A of IPC, 1860 were not sufficient to deal with the issues in question.

The Court took reference from the international conventions to proceed with the case. It referred to the Beijing Statement of Principles on the independence of Judiciary in the LAWASIA region as well as the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Article 11 (1) (a) & (f) prescribes the State to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment. Article 24 states that the State shall undertake to adopt all necessary measures at the national level aimed at achieving the full realization.

The Supreme Court framed the guidelines to prevent sexual harassment at the Workplace, known as Vishaka Guidelines. These guidelines were the foundation for The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

The Vishaka Guidelines Of 1997

The Court framed the guidelines in the instant case “Vishaka Vs State of Rajasthan” as:

1. The employers should take all reasonable steps to prevent happening of sexual harassment at workplaces. It is the responsibility of the employer to prescribe a mechanism to redress the sexual harassment, if any, takes place in the organization.

2. The Vishaka Guidelines defined the term “Sexual Harassment” as a disagreeable sexually determined behavior direct or indirect in the form of physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favors, sexually colored remarks, showing pornography, any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

3. The preventive measures for the employers to be taken as prescribed by the Court in this instant case were in the following nature:

  • The employer must take effective steps of preventing sexual harassment at workplaces. This has to be done by putting up notifications, circulars, penalties for the offender as fixed by the government, adequate working conditions of health, hygiene and rest of the women workers.
  • The employers are bound to take action of complaining in the appropriate authority against the offender by bringing him into the book for the offences committed falling under Section 354 & 354A of IPC, 1860.
  • If any employee does an act contrary to the rules for prevention, the employer is bound to take disciplinary action against him.
  • Every employer is bound is set up a redressal mechanism to deal with the issues preventing sexual harassment at workplaces. It is immaterial as to whether the evil act falls within the purview of IPC or not.
  • A redressal committee must be set up with its head being a woman. It must have half of the members as women members. It is mandatory to send an annual report to the government in relation to the conduction of its affairs within the organization.
  • The employers are also directed to spread awareness to prevent the occurrence of sexual harassment at workplaces.

Conclusion

The judgment of Vishaka & Ors vs State of Rajasthan led the court to once again upheld the constitutional principles of equality and liberty. The judgment brought a ray of hope among all the women workers who were facing severe sexual violence, harassment as well as gender inequality prevailing in the then scenario. The Vishaka Guidelines constituted the bedrock for the passage and enforcement of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

The true spirit of Judicial Activism has been portrayed in the Vishaka Judgement. Despite the judicial intervention, it is a sorry state of affair that the ignited spark who brought the issue in the limelight is still awaiting for the justice to be served and I firmly believe that she will no sooner get justice.

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Subham Chatterjee

Subham Chatterjee is a penultimate year law student from Tezpur Law College, Assam. Apart from excelling in academics, he has presented papers in national seminars, contributed chapters in edited books published internationally. He also brought accolades by winning Moot Court Competition, Client counselling competition and Quiz Competitions apart from participating in various competitions. He has recently authored an ISBN book 'Land Laws of Assam: A Reference Book for the students of Gauhati University" He is also a trained Hindustani Classical (Vocal) and Rabindra Sangeet singer.