• Author Name: Kanika Tak
  • Details:  Entrepreneur, Research Associate, M.Sc. Microbiology (Gold Medalist)

DO women know their rights at the workplace post VISHAKA? Current assessment

For those of you who don’t know who Vishaka is, Vishaka was an NGO and women’s group under whose platform a petition in Supreme Court to secure equal, unbiased, decimation and harassment free rights for women at work place was filed. This was the aftermath of the infamous case of Bhanwari Devi. An anganwadi worker who in her quest to stop a child marriage in Rajasthan, was brutally gang raped by some ‘so called upper caste men’. And surprisingly, all the accused were acquitted by the trial court. It was due to this petition the justice saw some light and guidelines were issued to the government to ensure a safe, full of dignity and indiscriminate workplace for women in all sectors. The Supreme Court also directed parliament to enact a law with its recommendations (which ironically took 16 long years to enact).

Some important rights for women to know as per this act are:

  • No woman shall be subjected to sexual harassment at any workplace.
  • The following circumstances, among other circumstances, if it occurs, or is present in relation to or connected with any act or behaviour of sexual harassment may amount to sexual harassment:
    • implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in her employment; or 
    • implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in her employment ; or 
    • implied or explicit threat about her present or future employment status; or 
    • interference with her work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for her; or 
    • Humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety.

These are guidelines for all women employees, whether permanent or temporary. 

Every employer needs to have committees to ensure that such incidents don’t take place and in case of eventuality the redressal happens as per law. 

But what’s the ground reality? Reality is very discouraging. Most employers do not have these directions implemented, even if they have them implemented they are not actively implemented or revealed to employees. 

Situation is better in corporate or organised industries but far from encouraging. Situation is worse in unorganised sectors where work is assignment based like film production. A first-hand account of these sectors were surprising. In a corporate organisation a girl didn’t report the incident as the predator was very close to her manager and supposedly the HR wouldn’t take any action. 

In another account from a production house (which are largely unorganised) a girl didn’t report a sexual favour being demanded in return of an assignment, because the predator was a very famous person and police wouldn’t take any actions on him. 

These incidents pose a big question mark on the legislation enacted and reveal that while the legislation is passed the social problem still remains. 

In both these incidents girls were startled to report because of surrounding factors. This is more severe problem than a law not being there. Unless brought to light these predators will carry on as usual knowing that they are out of reach. #MeToo was an awakening campaign but its legal viability is questionable. And what about those women worker who don’t have these means. E.g. textile workers, construction workers. 

Where does the solution lie? The solution lies with three communities:

  1. Privileged women workers, who have means and resources to report such incidents, by reporting these you will do favour to people who do not have means to report and retaliate. This will provide them a sense of encouragement and a favour to those future women who would come in contact with those predators.
  2. Employers, they must ensure that an ongoing campaign is constantly there encouraging and rewarding employees who come forward.
  3. Society, the society around women workers is all of us their colleagues. We need to provide them an environment where they are known and able to flourish based on their skills more than anything else. 

While enactment of a strong legislation is a big leap forward in the direction of controlling sexual harassment of women at work place, discrimination and sexual offences against women at workplace is socio-legal issue and every part of the society needs to actively come forward to eradicate this from our work culture and make work places secure, joyful and progressive places for women.