New Delhi July 30, 2007 All the States and the Union Territories have made necessary amendments in their conduct rules and regulations to implement the Supreme Court’s guidelines on sexual harassment at the workplace.
The National Human Rights Commission, which had been supervising the implementation of the guidelines, has been given the compliance reports by all the States and Union Territories in this regard.
In the year 1997, the Supreme Court issued the Vishakha guidelines on sexual harassment at the workplace. The inception of the guidelines came about after Bhanwari Devi, a 50-year-old social worker in Rajasthan fought the practice of child marriage as a part of her job as saathin in the villages. The upper castes were taken aback by the action of Bhanwari Devi who challenged their tradition, despite belonging to a lower caste. Five men from the upper caste family of the child gangraped her in the presence of her husband. To add to her miseries the village authorities, the police and doctors all dismissed her situation and the trial court acquitted the accused. Appalled at the blatant injustice and inspired by Bhanwari Devi’s unrelenting spirit, saathins and women’s groups all over the country launched a concerted campaign to bring her justice. They filed a petition in the Supreme Court under the collective platform of Vishakha, asking the court to take action against sexual harassment faced by women in the workplace. The result was the Supreme Court judgment of 1997, popularly known as the Vishakha guidelines.
According to the Supreme Court guidelines, sexual harassment includes any unwelcome physical contact or advances; demands or requests for sexual favours; sexually-coloured remarks; displays of pornography; other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
The judgment created mandatory sexual harassment prevention guidelines for the workplace, applicable all over India. All employers or responsible heads of institutions must institute certain rules of conduct and take preventive measures to stop sexual harassment in the workplace. The guidelines direct employers to set up complaints committees within the organization, through which women can make their complaints heard. These complaints committees must be headed by women, and at least half its members should be women. To prevent undue pressure from within the organization, the committee should include a third-party representative from a non-governmental organization or other individual, conversant with the issue of sexual harassment.
The National Human Rights Commission took up the issue and consulted with government departments, private institutions/agencies as well as NGOs with a view to set up a complaint mechanism. The Commission supervised the implementation of the guidelines and the norms of the Supreme Court and now has the compliance report from all the States and the Union Territories.