Vishakha guidelines: an enterprise to reduce workplace harassment of women.

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This article has been written by Barkha, from JEMTEC School of Law.

Sexual harassment is something which has been experienced by almost every woman. Violence against women and harassment is very big social issue. Woman in no place is safe, they are harassed on empty roads, at the market, in their houses and their workplace as well. There is a requirement to frame laws to control such activity. Similar to this, a case was arrived which is commonly known as BanwariDevi Case. In this case, a Dalit woman, Banwari Devi was employed for Rajasthan Government’s women’s development program. Bhanwaridevi’s job was to make people aware about hygiene, family planning and importance of educating girls. She also used to conduct campaigns about female feticide, infanticide, dowry and child marriage. Once she went on a campaign to prevent marriage of a 9-month-old gujjar girl child. In the course of her work, she was raped by 5 ‘gujjars’ as punishment for preventing child marriage.[1]

So many movements started to seek justice for BhanwariDevi, she was harassed at her work place. The protests were focused mainly on harassment in workplace. Many campaigns were conducted and government was pressurized to provide justice and make guidelines to prevent sexual harassment at workplace.It was stated that, police did not take her complaints seriously. Proper investigation was not done, all the evidences were not collected. Police kept on delaying the procedure. Things became so bad when those 5 ‘gujjar’ men were acquitted, they were set free even after committing such crime.[2] The law in the country needs to be strict. Many women fail to get justice, just because of the loose investigation and delaying of the case.

Later a 4 women organization, filed a petition before the Supreme Court to setup guidelines for sexual harassment at workplace. The organizations were, Vishakha and Women’s Rehabilitation Group from Rajasthan and Jagori and Kali for Women from Delhi. Later the guidelines came to be known as vishakha guidelines. After all the protests and the public interest litigation, the Supreme Court then issuedvishakha guidelines for sexual harassment at workplace. At the time of commission of the Bhanwari Lal Case, there was no specific law for the protection of the women at workplace.

Vishakha guidelines, redefined the definition of workplace. As Rajasthan government refused to accept the fact that she was at her workplace, when she was raped. The definition of work place was also vague. It was stated that it is the duty of the government to make sure that the workplace was secure for her. In guidelines for workplaces, the basic obligation was prohibition, prevention and redress.  It was given that every institution shall set up an internal complaint committee (ICC) to address the matters of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment at workplace actually includes, any kind of physical contact or advances, any demand or request for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature, or any sexual related remarks. All these would come under sexual harassment. A complaint can be filed for such conduct. Later, women and child development ministry, issued a handbook which defined sexual harassment broadly. These included:

  • Sexually suggestive remarks or innuendos; serious or repeated offensive remarks; inappropriate questions or remarks about a person’s sex life.
  • Display of sexist or offensive pictures, posters, MMS, SMS, WhatsApp, or emails.
  • Intimidation, threats, blackmail around sexual favours; also, threats, intimidation or retaliation against an employee who speaks up about these.
  • Unwelcome social invitations with sexual overtones, commonly seen as flirting.
  • Unwelcome sexual advances.[3]

The scope was broadened in other way as well that, it is not compulsory that the complaint should only be filed by the victim. It can be filed by anybody else as well. Talking about the time limit, it has been guided that complaint should be filed within 3 months of the incident. But it can be extended in certain cases, depending on the situation as the ICC may consider fit.

After the filing of the complaint, the ICC may forward the complaint under section 509[4] of The Indian Penal Code, 1860, or may conduct inquiry on their own, the enquiry has to be conducted within 90 days of the complaint. ICC holds same power as that of civil judge in matter of summoning and examining any person on oath, requiring discovery and production of the document.Once the investigation is complete, ICC has to provide the finding of the report to the employer within 10 days. And make it available to both the parties.[5]

If the complaint is found to be false, the complainant would be punished under Section 14 of the act under, malicious prosecution.

These were the basic guidelines which was issued by the Supreme Court. This guideline was further supported by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.This act further broadened the scope of vishakha guidelines. Now all these matters are mainly governed by this Act only. This act makes it compulsory to have any Internal Complaint Committee (ICC), if any employer has 10 or more than 10 employees. It defines various aspects of sexual harassment and provides protection to working women.

The movement which was done after the Bhanwari Devi case, made people aware about the harassment at workplace and need to issue strict guidelines, to create safe environment for women. Although, Bhanwari Devi, she never received justice, her rapists are still free. A case which resulted in so much revolt, and lead to the creation of Vishakha guidelines. The same woman could not get justice. Even after advancement of the laws, there are so many women who do not receive justice. There is requirement to make better judicial and legal system, so that each and every woman can get justice.

 

[1]Smt. Bhanwari Devi vs The State of Rajasthan,1997 (1) W.L.C. 42, 1996 (2) W.L.N. 387.

[2]https://scroll.in/article/899044/dalit-womans-rape-in-92-led-to-indias-first-sexual-harassment-law-but-justice-still-eludes-her(Visited on 28.5.20 at 16:43).

[3]https://www.thestatesman.com/supplements/law/vishaka-guidelines-know-what-constitutes-sexual-harassment-at-workplace-1502694883.html(Visited on 28.5.20 at 20:46).

[4] word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman; maximum punishment one-year jail with fine.

[5]https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/sexual-harassment-at-workplace-vishaka-guidelines-metoo-5394486/(Visited on 28.5.20 at 21:15).

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