One of the ’10 Judgments that Changed India’ (Zia Mody).
The gravity of Vishaka v. Rajasthan matched the horror of its immediate cause. The case arose after Banwari Devi, a courageous social worker, was gang-raped for trying to stop a child marriage. In protecting the rights of working women, the Indian Supreme Court pushed the frontiers of judicial activism. It not only recognised the right to work free of sexual harassment based on rights to life with dignity, professional life and prohibition of discrimination in the Indian Constitution. It went further in arguing that when India assents to international conventions, then rights contained in those conventions (e.g. against sexual harassment) are conferred as explicit rights of the Indian Constitution. Not just imputed rights. This greatly enhanced the explicit rights of Indian citizens. Most controversially, the Court argued the judiciary could legitimately create binding guidelines on how to realise rights, if parliament did not. This was widely perceived as ‘judicial legislation.’