Vishaka & Ors v. State of Rajasthan
Author: Shriya Bhatkhande
“While a murder destroys the physical frame of the victim, a rapist degrades and defies the soul of a helpless women” - Justice Arijit Pasayat
According to the Section 509 IPC, eve teasing/sexual harassment—described as a word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman[i] is a crime. In India, women were idolized as Goddess but today the picture is contradictory. The issue of Sexual Harassment at the workplace has constantly been one of the crucial subject matter of the women’s movement from a way back. Although women are independent holding exceptional posts, they often confront bigotries, discrimination, and harassment at workplace. It is a notable incident that, setting free a woman along with her security is imperative for the country. Unfortunately, this entire outline absolutely rattled in the year 1992, in the wake of a sinister episode which was committed and notoriously known as- Vishaka Case, following which the Supreme Court handed over Vishaka protocols to restrain Sexual Harassment of women at workplace.
A woman named Bhanwari Devi was employed as a grassroot social worker (Saathin) since the year 1985 under the Women’s Development Project (WDP), an initiative by the Government of Rajasthan to suspend child marriage[ii]. Devi’s task consisted of work with the families to forbid the marriages and also immediately update the events to the police and authorities whenever any exigencies occurred. Amidst all this, Devi reported a case to the police that related to Gujjar community. Bhanvari Devi tried to halt the arranged marriage of Ramkaran Gujjar’s (Thakurs) daughter who was an infant with age merely one year old, with no luck.
The attempts she made to cease the marriage had severe consequences. Her struggle to do her duty in a righteous manner bared her punishment. The Gujjar family revolted against her and Devi was blacklisted from the community. Ramkaran Gujjar along with his five friends gang-raped Bhanwari Devi right in front of her husband, on 22nd September 1992, in the place called Bhateri village which is approximately 50 kms away from Jaipur. Her husband was attacked with sticks that led him insentient.
The on-duty doctor at Jaipur medical care refused to examine her and only made testimony of her age with no charge of her being raped in the written report. At the police station, she was ridiculed by the authorities who asked her to take off her lehenga as to find the clue of the committed crime and she had to spend the night in the police station with the blood-soaked dhoti of her husband to cover her body.
In spite of the inconvenient and slanderous behaviour of the police and doctors as well, Devi was persistent to challenge the odds and fight for her integrity. Hence, she registered a complaint against the cited persons. Putting forward a reason for inadequate evidence, the accused were released from the Trail Court with no accountability. Further, the High Court in his discernment set forth that the rape was acted out of revenge. The statements invited public interest due to which many women and NGOs raised their voice against the injustice. A petition was filed in the Supreme Court of India regarding the same.
Issue raised in the Court
The Supreme Court had investigated the trial which called the attention to the issue of offensive sexual advances and exploitations at the workplace, rape as communal matters of hefty severity, gender discrimination, insulting a women's modesty, thus overall indicating brutality at odds with women. The proclamation of imperative guidelines to brush aside sexual harassment of women at workplace were made after this outbreak.
The Court's Decision
The sentence of Vishakha's case was pronounced by Chief Justice J.S Verma as a delegate of Justice B. N Kripal and Justice Sujata Manihar on account of subpoena filed by Vishaka the victim of this case. It directed infringement of basic rights to stay on any line of work, industry or profession built upon the provision of a protected serving environment. Right to life advocates living it with virtue, the prime duty for ensuring such security and virtue through relevant constitution, and accordingly the formation of a system for its standardization, is of the legislative assembly and hence the management[iii]. The Supreme Court reckoned that sexual harassment in the workplace is an encroachment of women’s human rights, precisely formulating the guidelines to ensure safe and ample working environment for women including non-working staffs, customers, etc. who tend to visit the workplace often.
The Vishaka Guidelines, 1997
The Court specifically mentioned India’s confirmation to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which inhibits injustice against the women in the workplace and describes definite state constraints to end it. It also raised separate crucial guidelines for the workers to abide and avert sexual harassment of women at workplace[iv].
1. After this case, the SC made the term sexual harassment well defined therefore any substantial touch or conduct, sexual benefits, disagreeable taunt or misconduct, sexual desire concerning women, displaying of erotica, will be in the bounds of sexual harassment.
2. It must be the responsibility of the management and authorities in the institutions to prohibit sexual harassment and to equip the solution and agreement process.
3. Disciplinary Action - proper disciplinary action, as detailed by the applicable service rules, has to be taken up by the employer in correspondence with those rules, where such behaviour extends to wrongdoing.
4. Workers Action - Employees should be avowed to raise issues of sexual harassment and it should be acknowledged in the employee meetings.
5. Criminal Proceedings - The employer should register or cooperate with the aggrieved person in registering the charge under the Indian Penal Code with the relevant jurisdiction. It should protect the victims or spectators from not being victimized while handling accusations of sexual harassment. Additionally, the victims of sexual harassment should have the choice to request the transfer of the perpetrator.
6. Complaint Cells - A complaint committee should be established in the organization. The team should provide immediate treatment, support services and confidentiality. The committee should be run by a woman counselor with the majority of the team comprising of women. Also, collaboration with a third-party body like NGOs that deal with sexual harassment issues is mandatory.
7. Awareness - Awareness of the rights of female workers by briefing the guidelines.
8. The Central or State governments should endorse reasonable measures incorporating regulations to assure that guidelines are properly followed by the employers in the Private Sector.
Up until 1997, there was no law in India to question the sexual harassment of working women, despite having independence for 50 years. Unfortunately, it is a bitter truth that women within India experience unfair treatment but only few have the capacity to raise their voices against it with no support from family, low literacy and social stigma. Government should recognize that women also compose the working population of our country. The objective should be to inculcate a place where every woman is free from sexual harassment and untied of any sort of mental and physical sufferings. No doubt, judicial activism has attained its zenith in the milestone case of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan. Thus, in a country like India it is utterly crucial that the rights of all the genders are uniformly preserved.
Finally, we cannot forget the fact that this case has laid down the first stone for the enactment of the special legislation, The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 which exclusively protects the women from undesirable situations and also ensures safe and healthy working environment.
[i] Indian Penal Code, 1860, S. 509 [ii] Research Gate, The Women’s development program in Rajasthan: a case study in group formation for women’s development, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/23723873_The_women's_development_program_in_Rajasthan_a_case_study_in_group_formation_for_women's_development [iii] Art. 21, Constitution of India, 1950 [iv] UN WOMEN, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw.htm