The “POSH Act” is the official name for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Work Act. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, a landmark piece of Indian legislation intended to protect women from sexual harassment, was approved in 2013. The government has created procedures for preventing and addressing sexual harassment accusations to provide women with a safe and secure work environment. It defines sexual harassment, an explanation of the complaint and investigation procedures, and recommendations for how to proceed.
The case Vishaka and Others v. State of Rajasthan 1997, served as the basis for the rules about workplace sexual harassment, a very prevalent issue that wasn’t covered earlier and resulted in India’s legislation protecting women from sexual harassment, serves as the backdrop for the author’s discussion on the POSH Act in this blog.
FACTS OF THE CASE
- Bhanwari Devi, a social worker working on a project to prevent child marriages, intervened to prevent a child marriage that was happening in a prominent Gujjar family.
- Despite opposition, Bhanwari Devi performed admirably, but the Gujjars were determined to exact revenge. The entire family of Bhanwari Devi was subjected to a boycott.
- As a result of the boycott, Bhanwari left her job. On September 22, 1992, five men—including four members of the Gujjar family—Ram Sukh Gujjar, Gyarsa Gujjar, Ram Karan Gujjar, and Badri Gujjar—collaborated with aco–worker of Bhanwari Devi – Shravan Sharma, to violently gang-rape Bhanwari Devi as vengeance.
- When she finally succeeded in filing a police report, she was subjected to further stigma and cruelty. Her subsequent attempt to do so was met with apathy for a considerable amount of time.
- The trial court exonerated the defendants due to a lack of evidence, but Bhanwari Devi and a coalition of non-profit organisations that promoted women’s safety filed a writ in the Supreme Court, requesting justice and naming it Vishaka, which was ultimately granted.
ISSUES IN QUESTION
- Whether the Court has the authority to enforce international law in the absence of current sanctions?
- Whether sexual harassment at work violates one’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as well as their right against gender inequality?
- Whether there’s any responsibility from the employer’s end to safeguard women’s rights in the workplace?
The Supreme Court had to determine if it was willing to set specific rules to handle the issue while considering it. The Supreme Court identified glaring legislative shortcomings and recognized workplace sexual harassment as a violation of human rights for the first time. The Court determined that each of these occurrences violated both gender equality and the “right to life and liberty” in some way. The rights protected by Article 14, Article 15 and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution are violated. A logical conclusion of such an incident is the violation of the victim’s fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g) “to carry on any occupation, trade, or business; to practice any profession.”
The court took necessary action and established the Vishakha Guidelines, a set of directives intended to put an end to workplace sexual harassment. The Vishaka Guidelines, developed by the Supreme Court, were based on the Convention for the Suppression of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was enacted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 and ratified by India.
The features of Vishakha Guidelines were
- According to the Vishaka ruling, the Supreme Court’s definition of “sexual harassment” stated that it includes actions like unwanted sexual advances and physical contact, demanding or asking for sexual favours, making sexually explicit comments, showing pornography, and engaging in any other inappropriate sexually explicit physical, verbal, or nonverbal behaviour.
- Provided guidelines for a more secure working environment for female employees.
- It outlined the employer’s responsibility to complain.
- Made the creation of a complaint redressal committee a requirement for all organisations.
- Employers are expected to support their employees by taking preventive measures and offering support to these victims.
- Employer’s responsibility to raise awareness.
- The government was required to expand the application of these rules and convert them into strict laws.
Later, the Vishaka guidelines were replaced by The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redress) Act of 2013. The new law established in 2013 broadens the term “aggrieved women” to include women of all ages in order to better reflect current conditions. It also broadens the notion of “work guidelines which was formerly limited to the traditional office setting.
POST VISHAKA DEVELOPMENT
The first case in which the Supreme Court affirmed the Vishakha Judgement and upheld its conclusion that sexual harassment at work violates their basic rights under Articles 14, 19, and 21 was “Apparel Export Promotion Council v. A.K. Chopra, AIR 1999 SC 625.” The apex court expanded the definition of “molestation” and expressed the opinion that physical contact is not the only sign of sexual harassment.
Medha Kotwal Lele & Ors. V. Union of India & Ors. : The Constitutional Court was informed by the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) that the Vishakha guidelines, which were established in 1997 to prevent sexual harassment of women at work in India, were not being followed. The Vishakha Guidelines must be put into effect not just in form but also in substance and spirit, according to the Supreme Court, in order to give working women a safe and secure environment in every way and to give them the ability to behave decably and with respect.
The Vishaka Rules were developed at a time when it was critical to safeguard female employees against harassment of all types, particularly sexual harassment. “Bizarre reasons” were used by the trial court judge to exonerate the rape suspect, which clearly represents how women were actually treated back then. The act of rape was conducted to influence fear in Bhanwari Devi’s mind, but they clearly failed as Bhanwari Devi continued to fight for her rights even after facing a lot of obstacles initially. For the last 30 years, Bhanwari Devi has been defending a case against five neighbourhood males for rape, assault, and harassment for the past three decades. Her legal battle gave rise to India’s landmark Vishakha workplace guidelines that the Supreme Court established in 1997 as well as the country’s legislation protecting women from sexual harassment. Four out of the five suspects have since passed away. The fact that they were not found guilty, however, brings attention to the challenges faced by low-income women in the legal system, the widespread patriarchal attitudes in rural communities, and the dangers faced by female activists who strive to change these mindsets.
Author(s) Name: Jaeeta Biswas (Techno India University, West Bengal)