The Vishakha Guidelines – Right Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace and Art. 21
Art. 21 guarantees right to life right to life with dignity. The court in this context has observed that:
“The meaning and content of fundamental right guaranteed in the constitution of India are of sufficient amplitude to encompass all facets of gender equality including prevention of sexual harassment or abuse.”
Sexual Harassment of women has been held by the Supreme Court to be violative of the most cherished of the fundamental rights, namely, the Right to Life contained in Art. 21.
In Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court declared sexual harassment of a working woman at her workplace, amounts to violation of the rights of gender equality and rights to life and liberty. It said it was a clear violation of Articles 14, and also Article 15 and 21 of the Constitution. In this landmark judgment, Supreme Court in the absence of an enacted law provided for effective enforcement of basic human rights of gender equality and guarantee against sexual harassment laid down the Vishakha guidelines to secure for the safety of women at workplaces:
1. All employers or persons in charge of work place whether in the public or private sector should take appropriate steps to prevent sexual harassment. Without prejudice to the generality of this obligation they should take the following steps:
- Express prohibition of sexual harassment, defined above at the work place should notified, published and circulated in appropriate ways.
- The Rules/Regulations of Government and Public Sector bodies relating to conduct and discipline should include rules/regulations prohibiting sexual harassment and provide for appropriate penalties in such rules against the offender.
- Furthermore, as regards private employers steps should take the aforesaid prohibitions in the standing orders under the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946.
- Appropriate work conditions should be provided in respect of work, leisure, health and hygiene to further ensure that there is no hostile environment towards women at work places and no employee woman should have reasonable grounds to believe that she is disadvantaged in connection with her employment.
2. Also, where such conduct amounts to specific offences under I,P,C, or under any other law, the employer shall initiate appropriate action in accordance with law by making a complaint with appropriate authority.
3. Moreover, The victims of Sexual harassment should have the option to seek transfer of perpetrator or their own transfer.
All employers have to compulsorily comply with the Vishakha guidelines, failure to do so results in penal action.
Therefore, the laying of the Vishakha Guidelines served as a cornerstone in combating sexual harassment of women at workplaces.