Case Comment: Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan

Social evils are the issues that directly or indirectly affect the members of a society and are considered a point of controversy or a problem in regards to moral values. Common social evils include the caste system, poverty, dowry system, gender inequality, illiteracy, etc.  Sexual harassment means sexual favour or sexual actions from one gender to the other gender that are unwelcomed. It makes the person feel embarrassed, abused and humiliated by whom it is done. Almost whole of this world faces issues like Sexual Harassment and Gender Injustice, but for Indian women, the condition is pathetic. The case we’re dealing with in our research work is a landmark judgement in the history of Sexual Harassment, the end of which will be followed by our viewpoint in the same.

FACTS: The petition filed was for the enforcement of Fundamental Rights under Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. Bhanwari Devi was an activist in a village of Rajasthan and worked with a social development programme centred at stopping child marriages, and was administered by the state government.  She made every attempt to avoid Ramkaran Gujjar making her daughter of less than one year to marry. Marriage, however, happened, but she was not forgiven for her attempts to avoid marriage. She was exposed to social boycott. In September 1992, Ramkaran Gujjar and his five companions gangraped and assaulted her in front of her husband. Throughout her medical study, the male doctor at the usual primary health centre denied to examine her and the doctor at Jaipur only reported her age with no recommendation that she be raped. At the police station, too, the women constable for the entire midnight constantly taunted her. The policeman asked Bhanwari to leave her lehnga as evidence and go back to her home.  All she had to wear was bloodstained dhoti of her husband.

The Trial court discharged all the accused as NOT guilty. In its verdict, the High Court submitted that it was a matter of gang rape that was committed out of vengeance. Each of these comments and rulings caused women and NGOs to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) before the Supreme Court.

The petitioners contended through PILs, the:

  • Violation of Rights under Article 14 (Right to Equality), 19 (Right to practice one’s profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business) and 21 (Right to life and personal liberty) of the constitution.
  • Utter violation of Article 19 (1) (g) of the constitution

JUDGEMENT: Former Justice J.S. Verma heard the writ petitions filed by various NGOs. The court observed that the fundamental right to carry on any work, trade and profession enshrined under Article 19(1)(g) of the constitution has to be backed by safe working environment at workplace. It was the first time when the word ‘safe’ was given consideration while talking about workplaces. The court further widened the scope of Article 21 by saying that Right to Life implies Right to live with strength and dignity. The court ruled to set up a sexual code and ensure proper mechanism to enforce cases included under the term “Sexual harassment”. The main idea behind this was to decrease the inequalities faced by women at the workplace so as to provide gender equality and prevention from sexual harassment.

The Supreme court widened the scope of “Sexual harassment” by including any such act like unwelcomed bodily contacts, asking for sexual favours, passing comments of sexual nature, showing pornography and other oral or physical acts. The court laid down some guidelines and ordered its strict execution under Article 141 of the Constitution of India. The court imposed an obligation upon the court to set up an inquiry committee, disciplinary action, preventive steps, awareness sessions against third party harassment, and related criminal proceedings.

GUIDELINES LAID DOWN IN THE CASE: The supreme court blended International conventions and law as there was no legislation for the same prior to this case. The Court also gave other direction to ensure that no sexual harassment took place at work place and the responsibility for ensuring the same was placed on the employer. It was further directed that the complaint of the sexually harassed worker was to be addressed at the work place therefore Complaint Committee were to be formulated.  It came up with twelve guidelines to be followed in each and every institution, which can also be of help to law makers if any such need arises in the future. Section 2(d) of the Human Rights Act, 1993 was made the foundation of these guidelines.

  1. It specified the Duty of the Employer to develop a proper mechanism for reporting, investigation and redressal of matters related to sexual harassment.
  2. It widened the ambit of the definition of sexual harassment by including any kind of words spoken or actions, which ultimately harms the chastity of women. It also includes showing any illicit material, to demand intercourse, or abusing verbally or non-verbally
  3. It envisaged a responsibility upon the employer to notify the rules to all the employees in the organisation, and also the consequences of not acting in accordance to them.
  4. The victims are provided remedy to immediately get the transfer of the accused done, if she gets uncomfortable working in that environment.
  5. Provisions to be made to take strict action on such accused
  6. Employees to be vested with right to raise their voice against issues regarding sexual harassment in the organisation
  7. A proper complaint mechanism to be formed to register complains
  8. A complaint committee to be formed for the same having at least half or more women as its permanent member
  9. To educate all the employees about the constitution of such committees and their rights
  10. The legislation or governing heads to form laws regarding the same to bring development
  11. Employer is responsible to provide all sort of help if the basic rights are not complied with.
  12. The guidelines are in accordance with the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993

AUTHOR’S COMMENT: Now at this particular moment, members of the upper society or persons who commits sexual assault should become conscious of women’s critical needs or rights, or if this silent volcano of rage erupts, it will cause tremendous danger and fracturing, which will have the same effects created by a dormant volcano’s burst or explosion. Women are yet to be viewed fairly even after all these changes inside and outside the world. Even after having so many legislations, we as a nation have failed to impose them in our Mindset. In India, sexual harassment of women at work occurs at a really regular pace. If any stern action against this crime is not initiated, it would directly hamper the working ratio of Indian women and will also deteriorate India’s economic state. When it comes to creating a standard for the rest, the Supreme court has done an excellent job, these rules have established that people ought to come forward and say their suffering to the world instead of caring about society so that the accused would not gather guts to do such unethical Act anymore. Government needs to make specific legislation on the opposition to workplace sexual abuse, as it should recognize that women still comprise our country’s working population. The integrity and dignity of women should be preserved at any cost. Different new methods and skills are being introduced by organisations and associations to protect women workers from experiencing such a social evil. The primary aim behind stabilizing this right is to foster gender equality in the workplace without harassment and discernment among an organization’s employees.

CONCLUSION: Sexual Harassment of women at the workplace happens at a very frequent rate in India. If any strict action will not be taken towards this crime, it will directly hamper the working ration of the women in India and on the other hand it will hamper the economic situation of India. The government should make strict laws regarding the aversion of sexual harassment at the workplace, because it should realize that, women also constitute the working population of our country. The main objective behind the stabilization of this right is to promote gender equality at the workplace without any kind of discrimination and discernment among the workers of an organization.


Author: Shaurya from Mody University.


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