The case of Vishakha and Others vs. State of Rajasthan (1997) is a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of India that established guidelines to prevent sexual harassment of women at the workplace. This case laid down the foundational principles for addressing workplace sexual harassment in India, much before the formal legislation was enacted.
- Incident Leading to the Case: The case was filed in the backdrop of the gang-rape of Bhanwari Devi, a social worker from Rajasthan, in 1992. The rape was an act of retaliation because she was trying to prevent a child marriage in her village.
- Petitioners: 'Vishakha', a group working for gender equality, along with other women's groups, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court seeking the enforcement of fundamental rights for working women under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution.
- The primary issue was the absence of any specific law to address the problem of sexual harassment of women at the workplace.
- The petitioners sought the enforcement of fundamental rights and the consideration of international conventions to frame guidelines to address this issue.
Supreme Court Judgment:
- Vishakha Guidelines: The Supreme Court acknowledged the gravity of the issue and laid down a set of guidelines, known as the 'Vishakha Guidelines', to be followed at workplaces until legislation was enacted. These guidelines included:
- Definition of sexual harassment.
- Duties of employers to prevent sexual harassment.
- The establishment of complaint mechanisms at workplaces.
- Awareness-raising and the need for employers to assist affected women.
- Reliance on International Conventions: The Court referred to international conventions like CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) to frame these guidelines.
- Foundation for Legislation: This judgment was the basis for the subsequent Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013.
- Protection of Women's Rights: It was a significant step forward in protecting the rights of women in the workplace and ensuring their safety and dignity.
- Awareness and Compliance: The judgment led to increased awareness of sexual harassment at workplaces and mandated employers to take steps to create a safer work environment for women.
Vishakha and Others vs. State of Rajasthan is a pivotal case in Indian legal history, particularly in the context of women's rights and gender equality. It is a prime example of the Supreme Court stepping in to provide a legal framework in the absence of specific legislation, thereby upholding and protecting the fundamental rights of women in the workplace.