Sexual harassment and Vishakha guidelines: All you need to know

The victim of the alleged sexual assault by Tehelka’s editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal - who has now has stepped down from the editorship for a period of six months - has in an email to managing editor Shoma Choudhary urged that the publication establish an in-house cell to tackle cases of sexual harassment at the workplace, as per the requirements of the 'Vishakha judgment' of 1997.

Tarun Tejpal. AFP image

Tarun Tejpal. AFP image

What is the Vishakha judgment?

As Zia Mody says in her book, Ten Judgements that Changed India, "Judicial activism reached its pinnacle in Vishakha Vs. State of Rajasthan." The judgment was unprecedented for several reasons: the Supreme Court acknowledged and relied to a great extent on international treaties that had not been transformed into municipal law; the Supreme Court provided the first authoritative decision of 'sexual harassment' in India; and confronted with a statutory vacuum, it went creative and proposed the route of 'judicial legislation'.

The Vishakha judgment was an offshoot of a rape case involving a social worker in Rajasthan. It laid down the requirements for employers dealing with complaints of sexual assault and stipulated the formation of committees to dispose of complaints from victims of harassment.

Some general points about the judgement:

Below are some of the general points of the Vishakha judgment:

Gender equality includes protection from sexual harassment and the right to work with dignity as per our constitution.

Extra hazard for a working woman compared her male colleague is clear violation of the fundamental rights of ‘Gender Equality’ & Right to Life and Liberty.

Safe working environment is fundamental right of a working woman.

In no way should working women be discriminated at the workplace against male employees. (If a woman is, then it must be documented in company policies, for example limitation of women in police and armed forces.)

Working with full dignity is the fundamental right of working women.

The right to work as an inalienable right of all working women.

The Vishakha judgment had recommended a Complaints Committee at all workplaces, headed by a woman employee, with not less than half of its members being women. All complaints of sexual harassment by any woman employee would be directed to this committee. This is significant because an immediate supervisor may also be the perpetrator. The committee advises the victim on further course of action and recommends to the management the course of action against the man accused of harassment.

How does it define sexual harassment at the workplace?

Here is how the Vishakha judgment defines sexual harassment at the workplace.

Anything at work that can place the working woman at disadvantage compared to other male employees in her official career just because she is a woman – can be termed as sexual harassment.

Unwelcome sexually determined behaviour & demands from males employees at workplace, such as: any physical contacts and advances, sexually colored remarks, showing pornography, passing lewd comments or gestures, sexual demands by any means, any rumors/talk at workplace with sexually colored remarks about a working woman, or spreading rumours about a woman’s sexual relationship with anybody.

 


Published Date: Nov 21, 2013 11:55 am | Updated Date: Nov 21, 2013 11:55 am


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