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The Vishakha judgment by the Supreme Court laid down the guidelines for employers for dealing with complaints of sexual harassment/assault at the workplace, and stipulated formation of committees to dispose of complaints from victims.


What are the salient points of the judgment?

The court said sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour as physical contact, demand or request for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography or any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

It stipulated that all organisations would form a complaints committee to look into any such allegation. It would be headed by a woman employee and not less than half of its members would be women. All complaints of sexual harassment by any woman employee would be directed to this committee.

The committee would advise the victim on further course of action and recommend to the management the course of action against the person accused of harassment.


When did the judgment come?

The Supreme Court laid down the Vishakha guildelines in 1997 following the rape of a social worker in Rajasthan.

After an extremely humiliating legal battle in the Rajasthan High Court, the rape survivor did not get justice. This enraged a women’s rights group called Vishakha that filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court.


What was the recourse available to women before Vishakha judgment?

Before 1997, women experiencing sexual harassment at workplace had to lodge a complaint under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with the ‘criminal assault of women to outrage women’s modesty’, and Section 509 that punishes an individual or individuals for using a ‘word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman’.

These sections left the interpretation of ‘outraging women’s modesty’ to the discretion of the police officer.

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