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Case Analysis: Vishaka v/s Rajasthan

Vishaka & Others v. the State of Rajasthan and Others (1997) 6 SCC 241

Bench Strength:
The decision was delivered by 'Three Judges' Bench' namely, Hon'ble Judge J.S. Verma, Hon'ble Judge Sujata V. Manohar and Hon'ble Judge B.N. Kirpal.

Area Of Law:
The case was primarily related to Constitutional and Criminal Law.

Author Of The Judgement:
The judgement was authored by Hon'ble Judge J.S. Verma.

Supreme Court gave the unanimous decision in the said judgement.

Ratio Decidendi:
The ability to practice any vocation, trade, or profession is a fundamental right, yet this right is largely dependent on the availability of a secure workplace. The right to a life with dignity is included in India's Constitution's guarantee of the right to life.

The legislature and executive branch have a fundamental duty to ensure such safety and protection of dignity by passing appropriate legislation and putting in place suitable mechanisms for it.

After reviewing several legal rulings and the pertinent Constitutional Article, the court concluded that gender equality is ingrained in the Indian Constitution and that the prevention of sexual harassment is a key component of gender equality.

The court has the authority to uphold any fundamental rights under Article 32 in absence of any explicit law.

Facts Of The Case:
A woman named Bhanwari Devi of Bhateri, Rajasthan joined as a 'Saathin' or a grassroot worker in The Women's Development Project (WDP), which was run by the State Government of Rajasthan and was set to put an end to child marriages taking place in that village.

She was working at the office someday to prevent the marriage of a 9-month-old daughter in Ramkaran Gujjar's (thakurs) household. Sadly, the family falsely accused her of degrading them and even after a lot of efforts from Bhanwari, the family succeeded in getting the infant married off the next day.

The five men - Ram Sukh Gujjar, Gyarsa Gujjar, Ram Karan Gujjar and Badri Gujjar - four of whom are members of the aforementioned Gujjar family and one other - Shravan Sharma - planned to take revenge and then attacked Bhanwari Devi's husband. After knocking him out cold, she was brutally gangraped by all five men.

Going to the police station didn't help; she was instructed to leave her lehenga there as a medical documentation. Bhanwari Devi, although lodged a complaint in the police station, but her search for justice was never over. There was a fifty-two-hour delay in the medical examination. However, the examiner just mentioned the victim's age in the report and made no reference to any rape commission.

The district and sessions court in Jaipur dismissed the case and found all five defendants not guilty in its ruling on November 15, 1995. However, after some time, the five judges were changed and the sixth judge rendered a verdict of not guilty, citing, among other things, the fact that Bhanwari's husband could not have stood by while his wife was being gangraped.

The situation came to light after a story from Rajasthan Patrika went viral, and the state administration ultimate chose to appeal the verdict under pressure from women's organizations and non-governmental organizations. In 2007, the Rajasthan High Court only convened one hearing on the matter because two of the defendants had already passed away.

This prompted four other organizations, including an NGO and women's rights groups called "Vishaka," to join forces and file a petition against this horrific gang rape. It placed particular emphasis on the implementation of women's fundamental rights at work as guaranteed by articles 14,15 and 21 of the Indian Constitution and also brought up the issue of the need to protect women from sexual harassment at workplace.

Issues Of The Case:
Following are the issues of the case:
  1. Determining if sexual harassment at work constitutes a breach of rights protected by Articles 14,15,19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.
  2. If there are no current laws that apply to the case, might the case nevertheless apply international laws?
  3. Is there any liability of sexual harassment committed against or by employees of the employer?

Petitioner's Arguments:
In light of the prevailing environment, in which these rights were routinely violated, a writ petition had been filed to enforce the basic rights of working women under Articles 14,15,19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. The endeavor to prevent such violations has increased along with knowledge of and emphasis on gender justice; indignation toward instances of sexual harassment was also growing.

Some social activists and NGOs filed the petition as a class action in order to draw attention to this social anomaly, aid in the development of appropriate strategies for realizing the actual meaning of "gender equality" and prevent sexual harassment of working women in all workplace settings through a proper judicial process.

The violation of the victim's fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g) to "practice any profession or to carry out any occupation, trade, or business" was another outcome of such a horrific incident. As a result, such infractions were subject to the Article 32 remedy for the enforcement of these fundamental rights of women.

This was the rationale behind the class action brought under Article 32 of the Constitution. As this type of fundamental rights infringement was a recurrent occurrence, a writ of mandamus in such a situation should be accompanied by instructions if it was to be effective and therefore an effective resolution necessitated the establishment of some guidelines for the protection of those rights in order to fill the legislative gap.

Respondent's Arguments:
The experienced Solicitor General backed the petitioners while speaking on behalf of the respondents in this matter (with their cooperation). The respondent helped the honorable court come up with a practical strategy to stop sexual harassment and design the rules for its avoidance. The Hon'ble court received assistance in handling the aforementioned case from Fali S. Nariman, the amicus curiae of the Hon'ble court, as well as from Ms. Naina Kapur and Ms. Meenakshi.

Decision Of The Court:
The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India observed that there was then no legislation in place to protect women from sexual harassment and to ensure a secure work environment. In any case of sexual harassment, Sections 354 and 354A of the Indian Penal Code,1860 were to be consulted; however, the clauses in question were not covered by these sections. This helped the Hon'ble court to understand the need for proper and effective laws that would deal with sexual harassment.

The Hon'ble court made reference from the international treaties to proceed with the matter. In order to serve as a protector of citizens' rights and independently enact laws in the lack of any, it made reference to the Beijing Statement of Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary in the Lawasia region. The articles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) were then cited by the Hon'ble court. Them being:
  1. The state must take all necessary steps to end discrimination against women in the workplace, according to Article 11(1)(a) and Article 11(1)(f).
  2. According to Article 24, the state is required to take all the necessary national level actions to bring about the complete fulfillment.

The Supreme Court's primary goal was to ensure that there was no discrimination against women in the workplace and that there was gender equality among all persons.

Following this case, the Supreme Court clarified the definition of sexual harassment, making it clear that it includes:
  • Any physical contact or behavior
  • Display of pornography
  • Any offensive remarks or misbehavior
  • Any sexually motivated behavior towards women
The Vishaka Guidelines, which were to be treated as law as declared under Article 141 of the Indian Constitution, were established by the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act of 2013 was also built on the principles of these guidelines.

Vishaka Guidelines:
In 1997, as part of the Vishaka ruling, the Supreme Court published comprehensive guidelines on how to stop sexual harassment of women at work.
  • Every company is accountable for creating a secure workplace where each and every employee can advance and thrive. This means taking the required measures to safeguard the interests of female workers and make sure that sexual harassment is not occurring.
  • If a female employee is the victim of sexual harassment or other improper treatment, the employer is required to take appropriate disciplinary action. The rule states that an employer must make a complaint if their actions towards an employee constitute a crime punishable by the Indian Penal Code.
  • The employer is required to take precautions to safeguard the witnesses and make sure they are not mistreated in the future.
  • Workplaces should have a strict process in place to guarantee that complaints are handled quickly and effectively.
  • The suggestions state that in order to ensure that employee complaints are handled properly, and the proper cause of action is taken in response to them, each organization must set up a complaint redressal committee.
  • To prevent pressure from the employer's upper management, a third party should be involved, such as an NGO.
  • This will guarantee that sexually harassed women get the funding support from their employer's when they need to file a lawsuit and hire qualified attorneys to represent them.
  • Additionally, it is the employer's duty to promote awareness of sexual harassment and the protection of women at work. This can be done by alerting staff beforehand, hosting workshops, and coming up with other fun ways to enlighten female employees of their rights.

Later, the Vishaka guidelines were replaced by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Work (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act,2013.

Critical Analysis:
First and foremost, the Hon'ble Supreme Court's contributions are definitely noteworthy. On a more serious note, this case touches on one of the most important and important issues for women, and it has helped to illuminate the issue to some level. The judiciary's recognition of the gaps in the laws' provisions and the necessity to come up with a necessary remedy for the social ill also strengthens democracy in its purest form.

In the lack of adequate domestic legislation, the court's decision to include the International Convention is without a doubt perfectly perfect. When comparing the circumstances then and now, it can be said that sexual harassment is still a threat to women. One of these events in a woman's life has the potential to have a negative impact on every aspect of her life.

Even nine years after the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2013 was passed, numerous instances of sexual harassment continue to be recorded, and many more go unreported.

The Act has fallen short of the high expectations that one would have for a statute that has been hanging in the balance for more than 16 years. A number of the portions are self-defeating and nullifying, and several crucial components have gone missed. The availability of fundamental mechanisms, such as the supply of legal expertise, clinical counselling facilities, medical insurances related to the violence, compensation from the employer, and so forth, has not been made.

The Act, which was meant to be very victim-friendly, constantly presents challenges for the victim. Laws should be updated to reflect societal changes, especially in cases of sexual assault and exploitation.

In many cases, the inability to link the advancement of the law with societal advancement shows a lot about the degree of ignorance surrounding extremely humiliating behaviors like sexual harassment. The Act should be carefully examined by the legislature, and any defects found should be fixed. A strong and sincere effort on the part of the legislators is required in a seriously impacted society like India to address and eliminate this issue. Since Independence, socially speaking, women's empowerment has advanced significantly, but there are still many areas where it has to be accomplished.

The mindset of the society's gender stereotyping can be traced to this enormous discrepancy. The most effective way to achieve gender equality is for society to actually change its thinking. Then and only then can the banner of women's empowerment be proudly displayed.

India is significantly closer to achieving its development objectives, and more women are working. In order to protect women's human rights, it is crucial to acknowledge their right to protection from sexual harassment. All of this is a step in the right direction toward securing women's autonomy, equality of opportunity, and the right to a respectable job.

It is necessary to address the systemic problem of workplace sexual harassment. It is crucial to increase awareness among employers and employees of the many forms of sexual harassment that can occur at work, as well as of preventative actions and the legal basis for doing so.

In view of women's empowerment, it goes without saying that this case proved to be one of the pivotal moments in society's reformation. It is important to respect the Court's efforts in this decision to provide a definitive answer to the relevant question. Clearly, this decision establishes an important precedent that has continued to this day.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, which was eventually passed in 2013 and made a number of necessary clauses clear, was what ultimately made everything clear. Nevertheless, even with such legislation in place, the social issue of sexual harassment at work persists.

But guys can also experience sexual harassment in a variety of situations. As a result, there is an urgent need for new law that is more suitable to address these issues. All of them have the outcome that more relevant legislation is urgently needed to address every aspect of this problem.

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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