Vishakha Guidelines

 In the year 1997, Indian women celebrated a landmark judgment which was passed by the supreme court of India where they formulated the VISHAKHA GUIDELINES and made it mandatory for the institutions all over the country to take up these guidelines to prevent and redress sexual harassment at workplace. These guidelines laid the foundation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. Women in India comprise of almost 50% of the population of India and work in almost all the sectors and areas, even in those professions which were believed to be exclusively reserved for men and women never even thought to enter those.

This change was followed by a series of incidents where women were raped and harassed by men, and were subjected to a lot of physical and mental torture at the workplaces. This was a violation of the fundamental rights of the women such as art 14 i.e. right to equality, art 15 and 16 which states that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of gender, caste, religion etc. and equality of opportunity respectively. Thus there was a necessity for the women to be treated properly at their workplace. The Vishakha Guidelines came into existence after the horrifying case of Bhanwari Devi, a government employee who was harassed by a group of people at her working hours.

FACTS OF THE CASE

Bhanwari Devi was a social worker in Rajasthan, who was brutally raped by a number of upper class men as she tried to stop a child marriage. She filed a complaint against those men but was not taken seriously by the policemen and it took 52 hours to file the complaint. The Rajasthan High Court acquitted all those men of rape on the context that a woman cannot be raped in front her husband and that the head of the village would never indulge in such acts. They convicted those men for the offence of assault, the degree for punishment of which is quite lesser than that of rape. In her support, many women’s groups and NGOs filed a PIL in the Supreme Court under the collective platform of Vishakha asking the court to give certain directions regarding the sexual harassment against women at the workplace. On 13th august 1997, the Supreme Court gave the Vishakha Guidelines which included the basic definition of sexual harassment at workplace and guidelines to deal with it.

NEED FOR THESE GUIDELINES

After the Bhanwari Devi incident, many women groups protested as they demanded recognition of their rights as the citizens of India and urging the government to take necessary actions to prevent harassment of women at their workplace. At that time, the legal system of our country did not have proper legislation that would ensure the safety of the women at their workplace or provide just and fair punishment to the offenders who would indulge in the heinous crimes of rape and sexual harassment. Also there was no rule regarding the obligation of the employer to provide support and assistance to his employee who might be a victim of harassment rather they would just throw the employee out of their jobs in order to escape the liability. Thus there was a need for a new set of laws that would punish the wrongdoers and ensure the safety of the women at their workplaces.

FEATURES OF THE VISHAKHA GUIDELINES

  1. Definition of sexual harassment – the guidelines issued by the supreme court widens the meaning and scope of sexual harassment and defines it as an unwanted sexual determination which is direct or implied and is intended to cause physical contact or advances, demand or request for sexual favors, sexually colored remarks, or any other unwelcome conduct whether it is physical, verbal, or non verbal.
  2. Providing a safer working environment – it is the duty of each employer to provide a safe working environment for each and every employee working in the company, which involves taking measures towards protecting the interest of the women employees and ensuring that none of the employees indulge in any practice of sexual harassment.
  3. Duty of the employer – the guidelines lay down that it is the obligation of the employer to file a complaint if the conduct of any of its employee amounts to a criminal offence which is punishable under the Indian Penal Code.
  4. Complaint Redressal Committee – it was made mandatory for all the organization to set up a complaint redressal committee in order to ensure that the complaints of the employees are dealt properly and suitable action is taken.

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