Central legislation that seek to address gender injustices, including violence against women and children, include: The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act), The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA) and Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH). This 3-part post analyses the implementation of these legislations in the state of Tamil Nadu.
Sexual Harassment at Workplace: Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2013 (POSH)
The POSH Act provides prevention and redressal of sexual harassment at the workplace against women. This statute was based on the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in Vishakha & Ors v. State of Rajasthan & Ors, (1997) 6 SCC 241. The Act provides clear definitions of acts that constitute sexual harassment, as well as prevention and redressal mechanisms. It extends protection to women in the organised and unorganised sector.
The Act mandates organisations with 10 or more employees to constitute an “Internal Complaints Committee” (ICC). The ICC’s mandate includes receiving complaints of sexual harassment, investigating cases and providing redressal. The ICC is also responsible for creating awareness around sexual harassment and the POSH Act at the workplace.
Additionally, State governments are required to constitute a Local Complaints Committee (LCC). Similar to the ICC, the LCC has the mandate of receiving complaints of sexual harassment from women working in the unorganised sector and/or organisations with less than 10 employees.
Status of Constituting Internal Complaints Committees
According to the data of the social welfare department of Tamil Nadu, only 1317 of the several lakh workplaces have established an internal mechanism to address the issue of sexual harassment of women at the workplace. Even the workplaces of executive authorities like District Collector offices have failed to constitute ICC. In fact, they are under the wrong impression that the Local Complaint Committee (LCC), whose mandate is for unorganized sector workers and entities with less than 10 employees can function as ICC as well, which is very much against the spirit of the law.
Sexual Harassment at Educational Institutions
In the year 2017, the Hon’ble Madras High Court while noticing the absence of ICC, directed the Director of School Education, Tamil Nadu to issue a circular in this regard to the all the institutions/schools for the constitution of ICC, so as to conduct an inquiry into the sexual harassment complaints.
As far as universities in Tamil Nadu are concerned, most of them have ICC, redressal mechanism. However, they do not define ICC as per UGC guidelines, thereby not defining the process of making complaints and initiating an inquiry into the received complaints. In some universities, students and staff are unaware of even the existence of an ICC.
Recently, an Assistant Professor of the Devanga Arts College in Virudhunagar was allegedly attempted to have lured women students into sex work in return for academic and financial gain. The affected students registered the complaint with Women’s welfare committee of the institution since the college failed to constitute ICC as mandated by POSH Act. The Professor was suspended after 6 days. However, the college management did not inform the affected students that this action was taken. The management took appropriate action after the issue received media attention.
The Government of Tamil Nadu must take appropriate action against companies/organisations, including educational institutions, to ensure that ICCs have been constituted and are active. Furthermore, the Government must constitute and spread awareness of LCCs to ensure prevention, protection and redressal for women working in the unorganised sector.
The goals of legislation addressing gender-based violence against women and children are to adhere to the Constitutional values of equality, liberty, and non-discrimination. It is essential for laws to not only be enacted but be enforced at the State level. To this end, the State Government of Tamil Nadu must develop the institutional mechanisms required to implement legislation. Further, the Government must engage in consistent, independent, and comprehensive monitoring to make substantive equality and gender justice a reality.
Edited by Saumya Dadoo