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  • Abia Mohammed Kabeer

Case Brief: Vishakha & Ors. vs. State of Rajasthan & Ors

Vishakha & Ors., the petitioner represented by Sakshi (NGO) sued the State of Rajasthan and the Union of India to enforce  fundamental right

Title and Citation

Vishakha & Ors. vs. State of Rajasthan & Ors., AIR 1997 SC 3011

 

Facts

This case was a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by women's groups under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. Vishakha & Ors., the petitioner represented by Sakshi (NGO) sued the State of Rajasthan and the Union of India to enforce the fundamental rights of working women under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution, specifically related to sexual harassment at workplaces.

 

Issues

  • Whether sexual harassment at the workplace violates the fundamental rights of women to equality, life, and dignity guaranteed under the Constitution?

  • Whether the absence of specific legislation on sexual harassment in workplaces render legal protection inadequate?

  • What steps should be taken by the government to ensure safe and harassment-free working environments for women?


Contention

Petitioners:

Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination and violence, violating women's right to equality and dignity. The absence of specific legislation creates a legal vacuum, leaving women vulnerable. Employers have a responsibility to provide safe workplaces, including measures to prevent and address sexual harassment.


Respondents:

Existing laws like the Indian Penal Code and Civil Code can address sexual harassment cases. Specific legislation might be unnecessary and cumbersome. Employers have limited ability to control personal conduct outside working hours.

 

Issues or Contentions viz. Judgement with reasoning

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favour of the petitioners. The judgement extended the recognition of the right to work with dignity. Sexual harassment violates the right to equality, the right to life (including the right to live with dignity), and the right to work under Articles 14, 19, and 21. The court considered international conventions as interpretative aids for understanding the right to gender equality and freedom from discrimination. Employers have a duty to prevent and address sexual harassment by adopting internal complaints mechanisms and taking appropriate action against harassers. The Court laid down detailed guidelines for workplaces to prevent and address sexual harassment, later adopted by the legislature as law.

 

Rule of Law

The right to work with dignity is an integral part of fundamental rights. The absence of specific legislation cannot negate constitutional guarantees. Employers have a legal duty to provide safe and harassment-free workplaces. The Vishakha Guidelines establish comprehensive principles for tackling sexual harassment in workplaces.

 

Conclusion

 The decision significantly protected women's right to work with dignity and established legal precedent for addressing sexual harassment. It reinterpreted existing laws and emphasized their applicability to sexual harassment, effectively creating a new legal framework. The reasoning is logical, and consistent, and considers arguments from both sides. It cites international norms and principles to strengthen its interpretation of fundamental rights. The Vishakha case had a profound impact on Indian law and policy. It led to the legislative enactment of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013, and continues to guide judicial decisions and workplace practices.

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