Vishaka and Others vs. State of Rajasthan

Author: Khushi Bansal, A student at University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh

Headline of the Article

Vishaka Guidelines: Reshaping the Landscape of Legal Standards

To the Point

Citation of the Case: (1997) 6 SCC 241

Name of the Court: The Supreme Court of India

Petitioners in the Case: Vishaka and Others

Respondents in the Case: The State of Rajasthan and Others

Bench: Chief Justice J.S. Verma, Justice Sujata V. Manohar and Justice B.N. Kirpal

Judgment Date: 13th August, 1997

Use of Legal Jargon

In the Vishaka case of 1997, the legal jargon, or the legal terminology, revolved around the Supreme Court’s articulation of guidelines aimed to address workplace sexual harassment. The court’s pronouncements encompassed:

  1. Definition of sexual harassment:

The court elucidated a comprehensive definition of sexual harassment, covering unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

  1. Employer’s duty:

The court emphasized the employer’s responsibility to prevent and address sexual harassment at the workplace. Several proactive measures were highlighted as essential for creating a safe and secure working environment for all the employees.

  1. Redressal mechanism:

The court outlined a redressal mechanism, incorporating an internal inquiry process with the potential for disciplinary actions against the perpetrator if proven guilty. This mechanism was designed to guarantee justice for victims of sexual harassment, ensuring accountability and consequences for those responsible.

  1. Internal Complaints Committee (ICC):

The court mandated the establishment of Internal Complaints Committees, comprising female employees and an external member. These committees were entrusted with the responsibility of receiving and addressing complaints related to sexual harassment, ensuring a dedicated and impartial forum for addressing such concerns.

  1. Awareness programs:

The court directed the employers to conduct awareness programs to educate their employees about the nature of sexual harassment, preventive measures, and the consequences of engaging in such unacceptable behaviour

  1. Applicability and interim relief:

The court universally applied the guidelines to all workplaces, serving as an interim relief in the cases of sexual harassment at workplace until a dedicated legislation was enacted to comprehensively address the issue.

The legal jargon in this case established the groundwork for subsequent legislation, molding the legal framework for the prevention of sexual harassment at workplaces. The case played a significant role in shaping the legislative landscape, influencing the development of laws dedicated to combating and addressing the related issues.


The Vishaka case of 1997 marked a significant development where the Supreme Court of India issued guidelines to address workplace sexual harassment due to the absence of dedicated legislation in this regard. In this landmark decision, the court provided a legal definition of sexual harassment, directed the establishment of Internal Complaints Committees within workplaces, and delineated the obligations of employers. These guidelines remained in force until the Indian Parliament implemented the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act in 2013 to tackle the problem. Therefore, the Vishaka case marked a crucial juncture underscoring the necessity for legal frameworks to effectively address and prevent sexual harassment in Indian workplaces.

Facts of the Case

In 1985, Bhanwari Devi, a social activist from Bhateri, Rajasthan, joined the Women’s Development Project (WDP) under the Government of Rajasthan, working as a ‘Saathin’ or ‘friend’ in Hindi. In 1987, Bhanwari took a stand against the attempted rape of a woman from a neighbouring village, garnering full support from her own village. In 1992, she confronted the prevalent issue of child marriage despite resistance from her community, even though they were aware of the fact that child marriage is illegal.

Meanwhile, Ram Karan Gurjar’s family had planned a marriage for his infant daughter. Despite Bhanwari’s efforts to dissuade them in line with her assigned responsibilities, all her attempts proved unsuccessful. The family proceeded with the marriage against her advice. 

On May 5, 1992, the Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) and Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) intervened to stop a child marriage arranged by Ram Karan Gurjar’s family. However, the marriage proceeded the next day without any police action. Villagers later discovered that Bhanwari’s actions prompted the police visits, resulting in her and her family’s boycott as well as her loss of job.

On 22nd September 1992, five men, including four from the Gurjar family- Ram Sukh Gujjar, Gyarsa Gujjar, Ram Karan Gujjar, and Badri Gujjar along with one other, i.e. Shravan Sharma attacked Bhanwari’s husband and brutally gang-raped her as a means to seek vengeance. Despite police reluctance to file a complaint, Bhanwari, determined for justice, eventually lodged a complaint.

The investigation faced delays- a major delay of fifty-two hours. The male doctor at the primary health care center declined to examine Bhanwari. The doctor in Jaipur only provided Bhanwari’s age in the medical examination, omitting mention of rape. Bhanwari endured taunts from a woman constable at the police station and spent a night there. Past midnight, she was asked to leave her lehenga at the police station as evidence. At the end, she was only left with a blood-stained dhoti of her husband to wrap her body.

Due to insufficient evidence and the influence of local MLA Dhanraj Meena, all accused were acquitted in the Trial Court. However, the acquittal prompted widespread outrage from women activists and organizations supporting Bhanwari. This led to the filing of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by the women’s rights group ‘Vishaka,’ focusing on upholding women’s fundamental rights at the workplace under Article 14, 15, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India and advocating for protection against sexual harassment.

Judgment of the Case

The judgment in the Vishaka case was delivered by Chief Justice J.S. Verma, representing Justices Sujata Manohar and B.N. Kirpal in response to a writ petition filed under Articles 14, 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution of India. The court observed that the fundamental rights outlined in the aforementioned articles emphasized the need for a safe working environment in every profession, trade, or occupation. This right was seen as integral to the right to life and the right to live a dignified life, emphasizing the necessity of a secure workplace.

The Supreme Court affirmed that women have a fundamental right to freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace. It established crucial guidelines for employers to follow, aiming to prevent sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The court also recommended implementing proper procedures for addressing cases of sexual harassment at the workplace. The primary objective was to ensure gender equality and eliminate discrimination against women in their workplaces. 

Also, as a result of this case, the Supreme Court provided a clear definition of sexual harassment. Any physical contact, display of pornography, offensive remarks, inappropriate behavior, or expressing sexual desires towards women, as well as seeking sexual favors, fell within the scope of sexual harassment. Thus definition was later used in the formation of legislation in the concerned matter.

Recognizing the absence of a law addressing sexual harassment and ensuring a safe workplace for women, the Supreme Court of India acknowledged the need for proper legislation. Although Section 354 and 354A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 could be referred to in cases of sexual harassment, they were not specific to the issue at hand. This realization prompted the court to advocate for comprehensive and effective legislation to address sexual harassment.

To proceed with the case, the apex court drew inspiration from international conventions due to absence of any domestic law. It referenced the Beijing Statement of Principles on the independence of Judiciary in the LAWASIA region, emphasizing the judiciary’s role as a guardian of citizens’ rights and its capacity to independently formulate laws in the absence of a legislative framework. Furthermore, the court referred to the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), focusing on:

  • Article 11 (1) (a) & (f), which emphasizes the state’s responsibility to eliminate discrimination against women in employment.
  • Article 24, which mandates the state to adopt necessary measures at the national level for the full realization of women’s rights.

The Supreme Court issued a groundbreaking verdict establishing guidelines for addressing complaints of sexual harassment in workplaces. The court specified that these guidelines, known as the “Vishaka Guidelines0” should be enforced until dedicated legislation is enacted to address the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace. These guidelines laid the groundwork for The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013.


The resolution of the Vishaka case marked a significant milestone in addressing workplace sexual harassment in India. The Supreme Court’s decision led to the establishment of the Vishaka Guidelines, offering a framework for preventing and addressing such harassment until specific legislation could be enacted.

Acknowledging the absence of laws directly addressing sexual harassment, the court turned to international conventions and principles. The guidelines underscored women’s fundamental rights under the Constitution of India, providing detailed instructions for workplaces to follow in cases of sexual harassment.

The Vishaka Guidelines served as a crucial reference for the subsequent enactment of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act in 2013. This legislation established a more comprehensive legal framework for preventing and addressing sexual harassment in workplaces throughout the country.

In summary, the Vishaka case and the ensuing guidelines played a pivotal role in shaping India’s legal approach to sexual harassment, fostering a safer and more inclusive work environment for women.

Vishaka and Others vs. State of Rajasthan


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