I. What led to the formation of Vishaka Guidelines?
Bhanwari Devi was an Indian social worker from Bhateri. While working with the Rajasthan government's Women's Development Programme, she was entrusted with putting an end to a wedding between a nine-month Gujjar infant and a man. To her shock and alarm, she was the victim of a gang rape by Ramkaran Gujjar and his other friends. All this happened in front of her husband. In retaliation, Devi decided to file a criminal case against the aforementioned men. Regrettably, the trial acquitted the offenders and the whole situation was brushed under the carpet and the case was dismissed.
Pursuant to this injustice, a PIL was filed by a multitude of Women's groups and NGOs to file under the umbrella name of Vishaka.1 This led to the formation of The Vishaka Guidelines. These guidelines were drawn upon an international human rights law instrument, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Access the full set of The Vishaka Guidelines using this link:
II.Scope of Functioning in 2020
The writ petition that led to the formation of the Vishaka Guidelines drew its power from the constitution. It sought to administer fundamental rights for working women, prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, while continually working towards bridging the gender gap that exists in the workplace. The PIL drew power from Article 14 i.e. The Right to Equality to impose gender equality, Article 19 i.e. The Fundamental Freedoms to impose equal opportunity to work, and Article 21 i.e. The Right to Life and Liberty which sought to provide a safe harbor for women in the workplace.
The scope of this holy trinity (Article 14,19 and 21) has widened immensely. Thus, it should only be fair that the meaning of these rights under the Vishaka Guidelines should be also
widened. Article 14 must include the right to work with dignity and equal opportunity at every step. Article 19 must seek to bridge the wage gap that exists and Article 21 should be the link that joins all the other statutes together. The holy trinity coupled with Article 42 that seeks to provide human conditions of work, were the four pillars that the Guidelines stood upon.
The guidelines recognized that sexual harassment in the workplace was a direct violation of the fundamental rights that were enshrined in the constitution. Thus, any act of sexual harassment was in direct contradiction to these fundamental rights. However, with each passing year the scope of the right to life and personal liberty continues to grow. “Along with fundamental rights, the directive principles regarding securing just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief, and the fundamental duty imposed on all Indian citizens to renounce practises that are derogatory to the dignity of women were also referred to by the Court.”2
The Vishaka Guidelines were further modified and succeeded by The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
You can access the whole statute by visiting - http://legislative.gov.in/actsofparliamentfromtheyear/sexual-harassment-women-workplace- prevention-prohibition-and-redressal
While the scope of this statute was much broader and they filled in various gaps that the Vishaka Guidelines created, the Guidelines were a one of a kind legislation that was passed for its time. The Vishaka Guidelines remain to be the cornerstone and the beginning of a revolution against sexual harassment of women at the workplace. However, it fails to capture the essence of the struggle of gender equality in 2020.
III. Shortcomings of the Vishaka Guidelines
It can be ascertained without any doubt that the Vishaka judgment initiated a discourse in India on sexual harassment at the workplace at a time when women were oppressed daily thus envisaging a legislation that would uphold the dignity of a woman was bleak. The enactment of these guidelines benefitted women by asserting their right to a safe working environment.
The Guidelines was also a precedent to implement an atmosphere for women at work where they would not be discriminated against.
However, there were a few drawbacks to this system. The Guidelines did not encompass the unorganised sector and failed to acknowledge the sexual harassment of women in the unorganised sector. While, the guidelines were extremely beneficial to organised, taxpaying and licensed organisations, the reality of its ignorance to the unorganised sector came to light.
Since the guidelines heavily focused on an internal resolution committee, it became exceedingly strenuous to implement the statute in any such “enterprises whose activities are not regulated under any legal provision or do not maintain any regular accounts”
Another drawback of these guidelines is the timeframe in which the complaint is to be resolved. Although the stipulated time for resolving a complaint is 3 months, which in itself is too long, it is not completely rigid. “The ICC can “extend the time limit” if “it is satisfied that the circumstances were such which prevented the woman from filing a complaint within the said period”. The ICC is to record these reasons.”
Thus, there is little doubt in the fact that the Vishaka Guidelines was a one of a kind step that has lead to the betterment of women all over India. However, in 2020, there's a lot left to be achieved. The implementation of The Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 was a step towards a better future for women. One must agree that the Vishaka Guidelines laid the foundation for this.
- 1 Vishaka & other Vs. State of Rajasthan & others (AIR 1997 SC 3011)
- 2 Anogha Sarpotdar, Examining Local Committees under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, Vol. 55, Issue No. 20, 16 May, 2020