The petition, filed by the women’s right group Vishaka and four other women's organisations in Rajasthan against the State of Rajasthan and the Union of India, resulted in what are popularly known as the Vishaka Guidelines.
What constitutes sexual harassment?
The Vishakha guidelines define sexual harassment including
unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication)
a) Physical contact and advances;
b) A demand or request for sexual favours;
c) Sexually coloured remarks;
d) Showing pornography;
e) Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature
Vishakha guidelines, as laid down by the Supreme Court put the onus of a safe
working environment on the employer.
The guidelines say that: “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.”
The guidelines also lay down a grievance redressal mechanism that mandates all
companies, whether operating in the public or private sector, to set up
Complaints Committee within the organisation to look into such offences. According
to Tehelka’s managing editor, Shoma Choudhary, their organisation (despite
championing women causes) didn't have such a committee.
“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 organisation for redress of the complaint made by the victim. Such
complaint mechanism should ensure time bound treatment of complaints,” the
Supreme Court guidelines say.
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 undue
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.
Some general points about the judgement:
Below are some of the general points of the Vishakha judgment:
Gender equality includes protection from sexual harassment
and the right to work with dignity as per our constitution.
Extra hazard for a working woman compared her male colleague
is clear violation of the fundamental rights of Gender
Equality & Right to Life and Liberty.
Safe working environment is fundamental right of a working
In no way should working women be discriminated at the
workplace against male employees. (If a woman is, then it must be documented in
company policies, for example limitation of women in police and armed forces.)
Working with full dignity is the fundamental right of
The right to work as an inalienable right of all working
The Vishakha judgment had recommended a Complaints Committee
at all workplaces, headed by a woman employee, with not less than half of its
members being women. All complaints of sexual harassment by any woman employee
would be directed to this committee. This is significant because an immediate
supervisor may also be the perpetrator. The committee advises the victim on
further course of action and recommends to the management the course of action
against the man accused of harassment.
How does it define sexual harassment at the workplace?