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Empowering Women: Analyzing The Vishaka Case And Its Impact On Workplace Equality

Case Comment: Vishaka And Ors. V. State Of Rajasthan

Brief Facts the case:
The immediate cause for filing the writ petition was an incident of alleged brutal gang rape of a social worker in a village of Rajasthan. This writ petition was filed for the enforcement of the fundamental rights of working women under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India in view of the prevailing climate in which the violation of these rights was not uncommon.

With the increasing awareness and emphasis on gender justice, there is an increase in the effort to guard against such violations, and the resentment towards incidents of sexual harassment is also increasing. The commission of such a heinous crime caused great tension among the different classes of the society.

Consequently, certain social activists and NGOs filed the present petition with the aim of focusing attention on this societal aberration and assisting in finding suitable methods for the realization of the true concept of "gender equality"; and preventing sexual harassment of working women in all workplaces through judicial process, to fill the vacuum in existing legislation.

The shocking incident revealed the hazards to which a working woman may be exposed and the depravity to which sexual harassment can degenerate and the urgency for safeguards by an alternative mechanism in the absence of legislative measures. In the absence of legislative measures, the need is to find an effective alternative mechanism to fulfill this felt and urgent social need.

Issues Raised
  • Whether There Is A Violation Of The Rights Under Articles 14, 15 And 21 Of The Petitioner?
  • Whether There Is A Requirement To Lay Down Some Guidelines To Fill The Legislative Vacuum?
  • Whether International Conventions And Norms Can Be Applied In The Absence Of Domestic Law?

Contentions Of The Parties:
  • THAT, such an incident is a clear violation of the fundamental rights of "Gender Equality" and the "Right to Life and Liberty".
  • THAT, it is a clear violation of the rights under Articles, 14, 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
  • THAT, one of the legal consequences of such an incident is also a clear violation of the victim's fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g) "to practise any profession or to carry out any occupation trade or business".
  • THAT, such violations, therefore, attract remedy under Article 32 of the Constitution for the enforcement of these fundamental rights of women.
  • THAT, a writ of mandamus in such a situation, if it is to be effective, needs to be accompanied by directions for prevention, as the violation of fundamental rights of this kind is a recurring phenomenon.
  • THAT, some guidelines should be laid down for the protection of these rights to fill the legislative vacuum.
  • The Counsel on behalf of the respondent extended considerable assistance required to aid the Court in dealing with the discussed social evil. Additionally, Ms. Meenakshi Arora and Ms. Naina Kapur also lent a helping hand to the Court.
  • Further, Shri. Fali S. Nariman being appointed as Amicus Curiae as well assisted the Court. Therefore, it goes without saying that the judicial assistance provided, portrays the willingness to work together, towards a better upshot on taking the interests of the people into account.

  • The court ruled that such an incident is a crystal clear violation of Article 14, 15, 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. Furthermore, the Court indicated few other provisions relevant, in particular, Article 42 (Provision for Just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief) and 51A (Fundamental duties of the citizen).
  • The Court dealt with the application of international conventions in the absence of required Domestic Law. The court highlighted that a relevant International Convention which is consistent with the fundamental rights as well in harmony within its scope can be applied for the promotion of the Object of the Constitutional guarantee as implied under the Article 51 (c) and Article 253 (Power of the Parliament to enact laws for the implementation of the International Conventions and Norms) read along with the Entry 14 under the Union List in the 7th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. In addition to this, the court also emphasized Article 73 (Extent of Executive power of the Union).
  • The court acknowledged the need for guidelines to render Gender equality and emphasized the significance played by the International Convention and Norms as the very nature of protection of sexual harassment and right to work with dignity being universal.
  • The court envisaged the Beijing Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary in the LAWASIA region which sets the minimum standards required to be taken into account to ensure the Independence and effective functioning of the Judiciary. On moving forward with the problem at hand, the Court adverted to Articles 11 and 24 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
  • Subsequently, the Court relied on the cases of the High Court of Australia in Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs v. Teoh and Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa to reiterate the application of International Conventions for the better understanding of the fundamental rights explicit in the Constitution through the prism of gender equality.

In view of the absence of enacted law to provide for the effective enforcement of the basic human right of gender equality and guarantee against sexual harassment and abuse, more particularly against sexual harassment at workplaces, laid down the guidelines and norms or due observance at all workplaces or other institutions, until a legislation is enacted for the purpose.

The Court held that this was done in the exercise of power under Article 32 of the Constitution for enforcement of the fundamental rights and it was further emphasized that this would be treated as the law declared by this Court under Article 141 of the Constitution.

India is making significant progress toward its development goals, and more women are entering the workforce. Recognizing the right to protection against sexual harassment is an essential component of safeguarding women's human rights. All of this is a step toward ensuring women's independence, equality of opportunity, and the right to a dignified workplace.

Workplace sexual harassment is a societal issue that has to be addressed. It is critical to raise employer and employee knowledge of the presence of various types of sexual harassment at work, as well as preventative measures and the legal framework for preventing and treating sexual harassment.

Needless to say, this case proves to be one of the turning points in reforming society in the light of Women empowerment. The Court's efforts in this ruling to clear cut solution to the issue at hand should be appreciated. This ruling, beyond the shadow of a doubt, turns out to be a significant precedent till date.

Eventually, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act was enacted in the year 2013 which ultimately brought light on various needed provisions. However, the social problem of sexual harassment at the workplace still continues to exist, amid the presence of such legislation. On the other hand, men are also harassed sexually in various cases. All these results in a pressing need for more appropriate legislation to cover all the spheres of this issue.

Dissemination and awareness-raising activities should be undertaken and reviewed on a regular basis in order to develop best practices for dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as to forewarn and enlighten prospective victims of sexual harassment so that they can avoid it. Enhancing sexual harassment training classes and following the guidelines on sexual harassment prevention can aid women in combating it.

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