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Sexual Harassment at workplace is the biggest anathema for working women!

Case note on- Vishaka and others v. State of Rajasthan and others AIR 1997 SUPREME COURT 3011.

Bench:- Chief Justice of India (27 March 1997-17 January 1998) J.S. Verma, Justice Sujata V. Manohar and Justice B.N Kirpal JJ. were the members of the bench.

Facts:- It all started in the year 1985 when Bhanwari Devi, who was a village-level social worker ( also known as saathin under women development project by Rajasthan government ) was raped. Preventing and stopping child marriages was a part of Bhanwari Devi's job. In a particular case of such type, one Ramkaran Gujjar was marrying his daughter who was less than 1 year old which means she was just an infant. Bhanwari Devi also had the power to contact the police to help her in preventing child marriage, even of her vain-full efforts, the marriage happened and people of the society boycotted her because of her efforts to stop the marriage. Later in September 1992, in order to take revenge from Bhanwari Devi, Ramakant Gujjar who was a member of that Gujjar family raped her with his 5 friends. The doctor also refused to survey her and in the medical report confirmed her age without any confirmation of her being raped. At the police station, she was taunted by the lady constable for the whole midnight and policemen asked her to leave her lehenga at the police station as a result of which, she wrapped her body in the blood-stained dhoti of her husband and spent the whole night at the police station. The result of the case in the trial court was not very fruitful for Devi as the accused were discharged for not being guilty. When she moved to the High Court, it gave the judgement, that “ it was a case of gang rape which was conducted out of the revengeful situation”. All these situations agitated various social organizations and women activists and they raised their voice for Devi’s justice and a PIL was filed by women’s right activists in the SC for protecting women from sexual harassment at workplace.


The major issues which were raised in the trial of this case were: Gender Inequality, Outraging the modesty of a woman, sexual harassment at workplace, the intensity and ill effect of rape on society and most important was violence against women.

The decision of the court:-

The court held that such an act is the basic right of gender inequality and therefore, violates the right to life and liberty. The right to life does not mean living like a mere animal, it means “life with dignity”, appropriate legislation should be passed to ensure the dignity and safety of a woman at her workplace. While analyzing this case, the court concluded that act done by Ramakant Gujjar and his 5 friends violated article 14,15,19(1)(g) and 21 of the Indian constitution. the court while pronouncing this judgment referred to India’s ratification to Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which had prohibited discrimination at the workplace and outlined specific state obligations to end it. The articles of CEDAW which were referred were: Article 11(1)(a,f), Article 24, General Recommendation No. 19.

This act was a landmark judgement and it laid down the foundation of POSH (Prevention From Sexual Harassment at Workplace) rules. This judgement included:

  • A proper definition of sexual harassment.

  • Giving priority to prevention.

  • Shifting of accountability from individuals to institutions.

  • Provision for an innovative redress mechanism.

Sexual harassment was defined as an unwelcomed, sexually inappropriate, verbal or non- verbal type of behaviour. If a person does any sexually inappropriate behaviour or demands sexual favours will be held liable for sexual harassment. The responsibility and accountability were shifted on the employers to make sure that a safe and sound environment for women at their workplace was ensured. This judgement created a redressal mechanism by mandating to create a complaint committee to look into the matters of sexual harassment of women at workplace. This committee was to be headed by a woman employee, half of its members should be women and a third party NGO or expert should also be involved in this committee who is adept in dealing with such cases. This case led to the establishment of international standards for dealing with such cases and to fill the existing lacuna of the laws for sexual harassment in India because this evil must be eliminated from its root. Such an ominous act leaves an everlasting ill impact on the lives of women.


Shiwansh Tripathi is a 1st year Law student, currently pursuing Law from WBNUJS, Kolkata.

You can contact him at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shiwansh-tripathi-87935a1b0/

Editor: Rudra Prasad

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