Women consist of a majority of the population and now are seen working in every sector. Earlier, specific jobs and areas were considered for men alone, and no woman dared to enter that profession. Well, it’s not the case in today’s generation. Women want to be treated well, equally, and with dignity. They have the superpower to manage their world and professional life beautifully.
There was a swift change in the culture, welcoming women to professions but their workplace safety took a toll on their mental health. They were treated as objects and subjected to physical and mental torture, which made women leave their jobs, ending their career life in a single go. Thus, the violation of fundamental rights of the women provided under the constitution of India was witnessed in the workplace.
After the horrifying incident of Bhanwari Devi, a government employee who was harassed and raped by a group of men in daylight while she and her husband were working in the field. This incident paved the way for Vishaka guidelines. Let’s walk through the historical background.
Bhanwari Devi, a small village girl, residing in Bhateri, belonged to the low-caste family of potters. An illiterate Dalit woman, Bhanwari was married off by her family when she was only a child. Her upbringing and social environment were such that she never saw any evil in the social practices of child marriage, female illiteracy, the dominance of the upper caste, female foeticide, and much of other evil practices.
In the early 1990s, child marriages were a very common act of pride, and the caste system was dominant. Bhanwari was also a victim of child marriage, where she had to marry her husband Mohan Lal Prajapat when she was 5-6 years old, while her husband was around 7-8 years old. The couple has four children of their own, settled with their respective jobs. To support her family financially, Bhanwari Devi joined the Women’s Development Project, where she was appointed as Saathin- A grassroots worker, reporting about issues related to land, water, literacy, health, the Public Distribution System, and payment of wages for famine relief works. She also opened up about self-hygiene and education for women along with campaigns against dowry and child marriage.
Bhanwari Devi raised her voice and concerns against the Gurjar caste, who was involved in the child marriage of their daughter. She failed to stop child marriage from happening and to take revenge, the village socially boycotted her and her family, and her basic amenities. However, she was a strong and bold lady, who survived through the tough patch of life with her family beside her.
Bhanwari Devi didn’t lose hope and kept her routine intact. However, to re-establish Gurjar lost power and authority, and 5 men attacked her and her husband while they were working in the fields at dusk. They smacked her husband with sticks, which left him unconscious. She was raped in the field by the men of the Gurjar caste breaking her sanity into pieces.
However, the struggle had just started for Bhanwari Devi. She, along with her husband and Ms. Sharma started with the never-ending struggle for justice. At first, they reported the incident at their area police station but demanded a medical examination to confirm the rape.
As per Indian law, a medical examination of a rape victim must be conducted within 24 hours of the incident. Bhanwari’s examination was conducted after 52 hours because of inadequacies of the medical and legal team in India.
Her medical examination couldn’t be conducted at the primary health center because only the male doctor was eligible to carry out such an examination. Left with no choice, she had to travel to Jaipur and was further delayed due to the unavailability of the Magistrate as he was approached past his working hours. The legal system of India faced crisis to provide a woman with basic justice or even a trial. The case witnessed a change of judge in every hearing, and the sixth judge passed the judgment in favor of the accused men, clearing them of charges.
After the judgment was passed, a victory rally was organized by the MLA, and the women’s wings joined along, declaring Bhanwari Devi a liar. The sadistic society believed the told, leaving the disheartened victim to file a criminal case against the group of rapists, and took almost 54 hours to file a complaint.
There was some impact of the complaint, where the Rajasthan High Court acquitted the men of rape on various grounds, passing judgment about a woman cannot be gang-raped in front of her husband, and the village head cannot be indulged in such acts. The men of assault were convicted and the degree of punishment was much lesser than the crime of rape.
The judgment passed by the Rajasthan high court gave rise to a series of rallies and protests by various women’s safety organizations and the public joined them. The police were not able to control the crowd, and a lathi-charge was passed, while the protestors did not stop, and forced the government and the legal system to provide utmost justice to Bhanwari Devi.
And soon, there was a case of Vishaka and Organizations vs. the State of Rajasthan which resulted in the formation of the Vishaka guidelines.
A group of NGOs who worked with the motto for the safety of women filed a petition in the Supreme Court of India, seeking justice for Bhanwari Devi and appropriate punishment for the men involved in the crime. They filed public interest litigation by the name of Vishaka and contented that the basic fundamental rights of Bhanwari Devi were violated, seeking a new set of guidelines for the protection of women in our country.
In the petition, the NGOs also mentioned the point of women’s safety at workplaces, because the employer of Bhanwari Devi did not accept any responsibility though the reason that she was attacked was due to work, which she performed as a part of her employment.
The moment finally arrived, and the judgment was given by 3 judge bench which held that fundamental rights provided under Article 14, Article 15, Article 19(1)(g), and Article 21 of the Constitution of India are violated by the act of sexual harassment. Along with these Articles, the government decided to frame Vishaka guidelines to protect women at their workplace, providing them with a safe and secure environment to flourish and nurture their careers.
The Vishaka guidelines were a set of guidelines that were introduced in 1997 to protect women from sexual harassment in their workplace. These were some of the procedures and methodologies followed while dealing with any cases related to sexual harassment of women.
These guidelines were instituted after a series of cases of sexual harassment were registered. Rallies and campaigns were taking place regularly by different social groups, seeking protection for women in India. Unfortunately, the legal system of our country was not strong and did not have proper legislation that could ensure safety and provide justice to assaulters who indulge in the heinous crime of rape and harassment.
Also, there were no such rules regarding the obligations of the employer to provide support and assistance to their employee, who is also a victim of sexual harassment. They would in return throw the victims out of the job, escape the liability and further consequences, leaving the victim hopeless and unsecured. Unfortunately, the new set of legislation was taking time, and the number of cases increased gradually, leaving women to deal with the wrongdoers.
And finally, Vishaka guidelines came into existence, providing temporary relief from sexual harassment of women at workplaces and ensuring people who are indulging in acts of any kind of harassment are given justifiable punishment.
However, in the year 2013, Vishaka guidelines were replaced by the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (prevention, prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013. It broadens the scope of the workplace which earlier focused on traditional office set-up.
On a conclusive note, every citizen of India has the fundamental rights of equality and personal liberty, protecting the country and its citizen by no discrimination on any grounds. It is a legal and moral duty to keep the workplace a safe space for women to prosper and sustain their careers equally as men. The Vishaka guidelines were a pioneering step to ensure women are safe from any kind of harassment, and the employer takes the responsibility to prevent such acts from happening in the workplace. The employer must register a complaint when such an act is found to have happened with an employee, and provide support in terms of money from their employers so that they can take legal action against the assaulters.
Women and safety is a topic being spoken about for ages and despite precautionary acts, crime still happens. However, the I’m Safe app is a safety app for women, to maintain a secure and safe environment at their workplace or while traveling. Features like location tracking, SOS reporting, one-click help from trained professionals, anonymous reporting, and fake calls help women to seek help from our smartphone app where support is available at their fingertips 24/7.
POSH or Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 was introduced replacing Vishaka guidelines, to address the issues of harassment faced by women at workplace. The act aims to create a safe and secure work environment for women and provide them with protection.
The POSH Act implies that every organization with more than 10 employees adopt the provisions of the POSH Compliance Act and set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to address and resolve complaints of sexual harassment. The ICC must be headed by a woman employee and have at least 50% female members.
The I’m Safe App is advancing with portals for organizations to protect employees from sexual harassment and abide by the law. Our portal allows employees to register their complaints and look forward to a resolution, while ICC members can access the admin portal and communicate with the assaulter, other employees, and the registrar. This platform allows you to view your previous complaints, register new complaints, and resolve issues in no time.
Just like Bhanwari Devi, let’s all fight for our fundamental rights. Every workspace should have safety measures and security for women to work in peace. Don’t miss out to voice out the harassment you are facing. You may be the inspiration for other women to out of their shells. Don’t be hesitant. Be bold. Be Strong. Be you!