Read Order: Women In Cinema Collective & Anr. vs. State of Kerala & Ors. 

Pankaj Bajpai

Ernakulam, March 22, 2022: As far as the film industry is concerned, the Kerala High Court (Ernakulam Bench) has clarified that the production unit is the workplace of an individual film and therefore, each production unit would have to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee, which alone can deal with the harassment against women in contemplation of the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chaly therefore observed that the organizations associated with the film industry take steps to constitute a joint committee, by including the members of organizations registered with them in tune with the provisions of Act, 2013 to deal with sexual harassment of women, which would definitely render sufficient confidence to women Actor Artists and other employees & other workers employed by the production unit; which would in turn protect the dignity, and make the right to life and personal liberty of the women in the film industry more meaningful and fruitful.

The observation came pursuant to Public Interest Litigations filed by various organizations seeking to constitute a grievance redressal mechanism against the sexual harassment as per the directions of the Supreme Court in Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan, (1997) 6 SCC 241, and in accordance with the Act of 2013. 

Going by the background of the case, Women in Cinema Collective (first petitioner) has been constituted for the welfare of women in Indian Cinema with the objectives of ensuring equal space and equal opportunities for all women working in Cinema with respect to all creative and other processes and activities concerning the making of cinema and all related events and also for ensuring the dignity of women working in cinema in their workspaces by promoting awareness and preserving the rights of women as guaranteed under the Constitution of India.

The paramount contention advanced was that the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA – third respondent), and its membership has been restricted to Actor Artists in feature films. According to the petitioners, the association, in spite of being the dominant professional Association for Actor artists in the Malayalam film industry, had failed to implement a grievance redressal mechanism for its members against the sexual harassment at the workplace. It was the case of petitioners that the omission of the Association is striking at a time when widespread sexual assault and harassment of women in film industries across the country have come out.

Accordingly, it was submitted that the inaction of the association in setting out a grievance redressal mechanism against the sexual harassment is also a breach of the Vishakha guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court and also the violation of the provisions of the Act, 2013. Further, apart from the film industry, allegations of sexual harassment are raised on members of a political party; and so also there are allegations of sexual harassment against women, who are members of Kerala Working Women Journalists. Accordingly, PIL is filed seeking directions to be issued to the State Government to conduct an enquiry into the compliance of the provisions of the Act, 2013. 

After considering the submissions, the High Court found that the Act of 2013 is the outcome of the fact that the sexual harassment at a workplace is considered violation of women’s right to equality, life and liberty, which creates an unsecured and hostile work environment, which discourages women participation in work thereby, adversely affecting their social and economic empowerment and the goal of inclusive growth. 

The organisations associated with the film industries, who are made respondents in the writ petitions, are not employers of the Actor Artists in the film industry. However, these organisations have their own structure, in which employees are there and therefore, if there are any women employees employed by such organisations, they are duty bound to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee, if the employees are exceeding in number in contemplation of section 4 r/w. Section 6 of the Act, 2013”, added the Court. 

Speaking for the Bench, Justice Chaly gathered that even if the respondent organizations are not duty bound to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee, a complaint will lie to the Local Committee constituted u/s 6 because the second limb of section 9 makes it clear that where there is no internal committee constituted, the complaint can be preferred to the local committee. 

Therefore, according to the Bench it couldnot be said that even if the respondent organisations had no direct employer relationship with the Actor Artists and consequent to which no Internal Committee wasconstituted to redress their grievance against the sexual harassment, could be raised against the person or the management, who maintained a workplace.

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