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#MeToo : Need of the hour - Establishing redressal mechanisms
- Ananda Shankar Jayant

October 17, 2018

The #MeToo movement showing the darker side of many, from the worlds of cinema, arts, publishing etc., also brings to light the complete non-existence of a redressal machinery whatsoever, in these sectors.

The implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, and the earlier 1997 Vishakha guidelines, has seen most of us bureaucrats, serve on these Committees, conduct detailed enquiries leading to indicting many, and recommending to the administration various degrees of punishment, even as we also sifted through many false allegations. These Committees are taken very seriously and over the years, this robust system has emerged as a powerful deterrent factor, making the Government workplace much safer, as has a strong and empowered HR, for Corporate enterprises.

Industries like publishing, cinema, arts, fashion etc., are fields of activity, where entry and growth in the said field are invariably dependent on the whims and fancies of a few, where "opportunity" sought and "patronage" given become the doorway for exploitation, irrespective of gender. These are industries, where patrons' sense of entitlement unfortunately seeks a deviant return on opportunity provided. Add to it the lack of a methodology of redressal and punishment, and what we have is an intensively exploitative situation unfettered by any deterrence. The different nature of engagement and growth, in the world of arts, makes it imperative for mandating the establishment ofa strong redressal machinery, and its necessity cannot be over emphasized.

How can this happen?

Apex autonomous bodies of culture, such as the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Sahitya Akademi, Lalita Kala Akademi, CBFC etc., must be directed by the Government to constitute an independent Commission or Tribunal, each, to cater to the sector they represent. These Commissions / Tribunals, can then enquire into complaints, providing a hearing to both sides, call out such predators, mark them as deviant, and recommend punitive action to the apex body.

For example, if the complaint is against a musician, dancer or theatre artiste, or against any of the many support teams of performing arts - arts presenters, makeup persons, lighting technicians, critics, musicologists, etc. - and is proven and action recommended by the Commission /Tribunal, then Sangeet Natak Akademi, the apex autonomous body under the Ministry of Culture for performing arts, will be bound to take action against the predator - maybe a black listing, a ban for a said period of time, a withdrawal of an award, or a stopping of grants, etc. Similarly, the Commission under CBFC, could recommend blacklisting of an exploitative or abusive movie director or actor, or not certify their movies. The Sahitya Akademi's Commission, could enquire into complaints pertaining to publishers, writers and editors, and so on.

Needless to say, the said Commission must have the presence of members from across the board and not just from within the said field of activity, to enable a fair enquiry and judgement, to both sides, alongside an independent Appellate Authority, for appeals wherever sought. The methodology for the working of such Commissions and Committees already exist. All that policy makers need to do is to adapt and extend these well-established systems to the world of private enterprise.

Unstructured professions, and their practitioners cannot be left alone to fend for themselves, even as the ones who exploit get away scot free, all because there was no one to question or enquire into such aberrant behaviour. The implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, needs to be extended to every worker in every field, if necessary, redefining some of the key words such as workplace, employer, employee etc., to encompass a wide range of unstructured livelihoods and activities.

It's urgent and needs to be put in place immediately.

Are policy makers listening?

Ananda Shankar Jayant is a bureaucrat, classical dancer and choreographer, scholar, leadership speaker, writer, a Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee, and a cancer traveller.

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