Discussions on #MeToo sexual harassment allegations always come back to the internal complaints committees missing in many organisations. The Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) has moved the Kerala High Court with a plea to set up an internal complaints committee in the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA).
Employers are bound by law to set up an internal complaints committee at the workplace, as per the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. However, the requirement is applicable only to organisations employing more than 10 people. What remedies are left with employees in unorganised sectors, from construction to entertainment.
Sexual harassment has a broad definition in law. It need not be physical assault. Even verbal and mental abuse can constitute harassment under the Act of 2013. The law does not limit the right to complain to employees. Even visitors to the establishment, interns and students are covered by the Act. Even women invited for a job interview or actresses attending an audition are protected under the Act.
Workplace consists of office, attached car park areas, washrooms or even a hotel room where an employee is asked to go as part of work. Broader definition would mean more complaints.
If the workplace does not have an internal complaints committee, women can approach the local complaints committee. The Act has envisaged a district-level officer to look into the complaints from organisations without internal complaints committees. Aggrieved women can complain to the local complaints committee or the district-level officer.
The local complaints committees have a responsibility to ensure that all organisations have set up internal complaints committees as required by law. They have the power to impose fines on organisations that have not.
The local complaints committees and the district-level officers are crucial links in the Act. They are set up and appointed by the state governments. Details about these entities are not available in public domain in Kerala. We do not even know if they exist. The government has to publicise the details of the local complaints committees and the district-level officers and put them in charge of the internal complaints committees.
#MeToo is not just another social media fad. The movement stresses on the need to make workplaces safer. We have enough laws but what we lack is the will to execute them.
Gained in translation
Malayalam author Benyamin's 'Jasmine Days' (translated by Shahnaz Habib) has won the JCB Prize, the priciest prize for literature in India. This is a portend of a shift in Indian English writing. English translations were also considered for the prize this time. Tamil writer Perumal Murugan's 'Poonachi' was also shortlisted.
Indian literature is exposed to the world through English. Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 on the basis of an English translation of his poems. Indian literature remained low-profile for several decades after that, until Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children' turned the spotlight on Indian English writers in 1981. Talented writers such as Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth and Amitav Ghosh ensured that Indian writers remained at the centre stage.
Meanwhile, vernacular literature was denied the attention it deserves because very few of them were translated into English. Even the translated works were not considered on a par with original novels. The JCB Prize has put an end to the discrimination though.
Benyamin's honour reflects the growth of literature in vernacular languages. The translations have come of age.
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