Recently, a woman journalist filed a complaint with the Thiruvananthapuram Press Club against its former Secretary, M Radhakrishnan, for barging into her house at night and for manhandling her male friend and colleague in front of her kids. The woman, her friend, and Radhakrishnan are colleagues at a Malayalam daily. She lodged a complaint of harassment with the Press Club, of which she is also a member, to be examined by their Internal Committee (IC) to deal with sexual harassment cases.
However, despite the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 mandating that an IC should be headed by a woman, the panel at the Press Club was headed by a man – Soanichan P Joseph. When the anomaly was pointed out, Sonichan resigned as president and a woman was assigned to head the committee.
This, however, is not a problem peculiar to the Press Club in Thiruvananthapuram – in many organisations in Kerala, irrespective of whether it’s a government organisation or a private one – ICs are dysfunctional. In many organisations, women are not even aware that an IC exists – or about what the powers of an IC are.
The state government recently entrusted the Kerala State Women's Development Corporation (KSWDC) to study the awareness among the employees regarding the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act and the functioning of ICs in workplaces in the state. KSWDC commissioned Anishia Jayadev, nodal officer for gender at the Institute of Management and Technology (IMG) to conduct the study.
"I have submitted the report a month ago,” Anishia Jayadev tells TNM. “While I examined the functioning of the committees to submit my report, I found that in several government departments, ICs don’t exist.”
“In places where ICs exist, not even a proper protocol is followed,” she adds. “The rules for forming an IC were stipulated back in 2013, but strangely, in some workplaces there is complete ignorance about these rules. I believe that the government, too, must have found that the ICs were dysfunctional, and the study was initiated to get a concrete report on it, on which the government can take proper action," Anishia says.
Further, the Act stipulates that at places where an IC exists, it is mandatory to have a poster or some other form of display in the office, with the name of the chairperson. This, however, is not done in even a single workplace, Anishia says.
"The sad part is that in most of the places, women are not even aware about the IC or what it stands for. Women who are subjected to harassment at the workplaces aren't aware of how to make use of it. In the rare cases that women speak out, they are ostracised and their image tarnished,” she says.
The incident involving Radhakrishnan is a prime example of this. While Radhakrishnan was arrested on a case registered at the Pettah police station based on a complaint filed by the woman journalist, a major section of male journalists in the city chose to ignore the plight of the woman, her husband, and children in front of whom the incident happened. The attempt to tarnish her reputation happened at the General Body meeting of the Press Club that was convened on December 2.
In the report submitted by Anishia, awareness regarding the constitution of ICs is cited as the major issue. Other issues include delay in disposal of cases, the nature of punishment, protection for the complainant, and the importance of having a safe workplace for women.
“Only a few officials know the statutory tenure of the committee and in no organisation are efforts taken to create awareness about the law. Even the word sexual harassment is a no for employees and this even prevents women from lodging complaint. Members of the internal Committee said that the ICs are formed for the sake of forming and that external members are not aware of their duties and responsibilities,” the report says.
"Even in cases where women come forward with a complaint, they are under pressure to withdraw the complaint. And in cases in which action is taken, the aggrieved woman is subjected to another form of harassment later," Anishia says.