RECAP: Vishakha and Ors vs State of Rajasthan, 20 years of Landmark Judgement for Rights of Female Workers
The Vishakha and Ors vs State of Rajasthan was a landmark judgment in favor of female workers, that talks about the rights of the female workers. The petition was brought as a class action by certain social activists and NGOs with the aim of focusing attention towards this societal aberration, and assisting in finding suitable methods for realization of the true concept of ‘gender equality’; and to prevent sexual harassment of working women in all work places through judicial process, to fill the vacuum in existing legislation.
The very cause of filling this petition by social activists and NGOs was the brutal gang rape which took place in Rajasthan with a female worker. However, there was no further mention about the gang rape in this case and separate criminal proceedings took place for the gang rape. This incident made people aware about the hazards which female workers may be prone to and thus the case was filled in order to get certain safeguards from the state governments.
VIOLATION OF THE BASIC PRINCIPLE OF GENDER EQUALITY
Each incident of female sexual harassment results in violation of the fundamental rights of ‘Gender Equality’ and the ‘Right of Life and Liberty’. It is clear violation of the rights under Articles 14, 15 and 21 of Constitution. One of the logical consequences of such an incident is also 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’. Such violations, therefore, attracted the remedy under Article 32 for the enforcement of these fundamental rights of women, and hence a writ petition was filed for this under article 21 of the Indian Constitution, and guidelines were issued by the Supreme Court to safeguard the rights of women,
GUIDELINES AND NORMS PRESCRIBED
In regard to the definition of ‘human rights’ in Section 2(d) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, and in notice of the fact that the present civil and penal laws in India do not adequately provide for specific protection of women from sexual harassment in work places and that enactment of such legislation will take considerable time, the court felt that it is necessary and expedient for employers in work places as well as other responsible persons or institutions to observe certain guidelines to ensure the prevention of sexual harassment of women, and the guidelines are as follows:
Duty of the Employer or other responsible persons in work places and other institutions:
It shall be the duty of the employer or other responsible persons in work places or other institutions to prevent or deter the commission of acts of sexual harassment and to provide the procedures for the resolution, settlement or prosecution of acts of sexual harassment by taking all steps required.
For this purpose, sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as:
- physical contact and advances;
- a demand or request for sexual favours;
- sexually coloured remarks;
- showing pornography;
- any other unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
All employers or persons in charge of work place whether in the public or private sector should take appropriate steps to prevent sexual harassment. Without prejudice to the generality of this obligation they should take the following steps:
(a) Express prohibition of sexual harassment as defined above at the work place should be notified, published and circulated in appropriate ways.
(b) The Rules/Regulations of Government and Public Sector bodies relating to conduct and discipline should include rules/regulations prohibiting sexual harassment and provide for appropriate penalties in such rules against the offender.
(c) As regards private employers steps should be taken to include the aforesaid prohibitions in the standing orders under the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946.
(d) Appropriate work conditions should be provided in respect of work, leisure, health and hygiene to further ensure that there is no hostile environment towards women at work places and no employee woman should have reasonable grounds to believe that she is disadvantaged in connection with her employment.
Where such conduct amounts to a specific offence under the Indian Penal Code or under any other law the employer shall initiate appropriate action in accordance with law by making a complaint with the appropriate authority.
Where such conduct amounts to mis-conduct in employment as defined by the relevant service rules, appropriate disciplinary action should be initiated by the employer in accordance with those rules.
Whether or not such conduct constitutes an offence under law or a breach of the service rules, an appropriate complaint mechanism should be created in the employer’s organization for redress of the complaint made by the victim. Such complaint mechanism should ensure time bound treatment of complaints.
The complaint mechanism, referred to in (6) above, should be adequate to provide, where necessary, a Complaints Committee, a special counsellor or other support service, including the maintenance of confidentiality.
The Complaints Committee should be headed by a woman and not less than half of its member should be women.
Further, to prevent the possibility of any under pressure or influence from senior levels, such Complaints Committee should involve a third party, either NGO or other body who is familiar with the issue of sexual harassment.
The Complaints Committee must make an annual report to the government department concerned of the complaints and action taken by them. The employers and person in charge will also report on the compliance with the aforesaid guidelines including on the reports of the Complaints Committee to the Government department.
Employees should be allowed to raise issues of sexual harassment at workers meeting and in other appropriate forum and it should be affirmatively discussed in Employer-Employee Meetings.
Awareness of the rights of female employees in this regard should be created in particular by prominently notifying the guidelines (and appropriate legislation when enacted on the subject) in suitable manner.
Where sexual harassment occurs as a result of an act or omission by any third party or outsider, the employer and person in charge will take all steps necessary and reasonable to assist the affected person in terms of support and preventive action.
The Central/State Governments were requested to consider adopting suitable measures including legislation to ensure that the guidelines laid down by this order are also observed by the employers in Private Sector.
These guidelines will not prejudice any rights available under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.
It would not be wrong to say that judicial activism reached its pinnacle in Vishakha Vs. State of Rajasthan. For a democratic country like India it becomes immensely important that the rights of both the genders are protected equally and this judgment indeed provided for the proper safeguard to the women workers. Such judicial activism is more than welcome.
Read the Detailed Judgment Here:
Published by Shruti Singh, Legal Intern at Legal Desire
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