JUDGEMENT

Title : Supreme Court of India - Judgement on Vishakha (PIL) to enforce the fundamental rights of working women
Author: 
Supreme Court of India
Date: 
Wednesday 13th August 1997 Asia/Kolkata
Synopsis: 
Vishakha and others v State of Rajasthan was a 1997 Indian Supreme Court case where Vishakha and other women groups filed Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against State of Rajasthan and Union of India to enforce the fundamental rights of working women under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India. The petition was filed after Bhanwari Devi, a social worker in Rajasthan was brutally gang raped for stopping a child marriage.The court decided that the consideration of "International Conventions and norms are significant for the purpose of interpretation of the guarantee of gender equality, right to work with human dignity in Articles 14, 15 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution and the safeguards against sexual harassment implicit therein." The petition, resulted in what are popularly known as the Vishaka Guidelines. The judgment of August 1997 given by a bench of J. S. Verma (then C.J.I)., Sujata Manohar and B. N. Kirpal, provided the basic definitions of sexual harassment at the workplace and provided guidelines to deal with it. It is seen as a significant legal victory for women's groups in India.

 
HIGHLIGHTS: 
In India, before 1997, There was no formal guidelines for how an incident involving sexual harassment at workplace should be dealt by an employer. Women experiencing sexual harassment at workplace had to lodge a complaint under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with the 'criminal assault of women to outrage women's modesty', and Section 509 that punishes an individual or individuals for using a 'word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman'. These sections left the interpretation of 'outraging women's modesty' to the discretion of the police officer.

In 1992 Bhanwari Devi a social worker in Rajastan was brutally gang raped by a number of upper class men, because she had tried to stop a child marriage. Bhanwari Devi was determined to get justice and lodged a case against the offenders. However, the accused was acquitted by a trial court. This appalling injustice, together with the fighting spirit of Bhanwari Devi, inspired several women’s groups and NGOs to file a petition in the Supreme Court under the collective platform of Vishakha.