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Time to Go beyond Vishaka

Fears and Furies of Sexual Harassment

The Internal Complaints Committee to deal with sexual harassment cases at workplaces has absolved the state of its responsibility to uphold workers' rights to form labour unions to demand better working conditions. The gender-labour bifurcation, inherent in the ICCs, is erasing rather than establishing the fact that gender discrimination is embedded within labour relations.

The recent high profile case of sexual harassment reported from the workplace of a reputed media house has triggered much discussion not only on this grave and rampant problem but particularly so on the issue of its redressal within the workplace. The case is particularly significant because it exposes the compromised way in which managements handle complaints of sexual harassment that implicate the management itself. Moments like these compel us to seriously ponder on the following question: Considering that sexual harassment is intrinsically linked to the working conditions prevalent in the workplace and the power dynamics that govern labour-management relations, is it prudent to sublet the responsibility of providing working women justice against such sexual discrimination to committees constituted by managements?

It is certainly not, for such procedures of redressal amount to privatisation of the state’s juridical role thus resulting in the growing tendency to reduce the struggle on gender-cum-labour rights to a private affair between two private parties. It is time that we engage closely with the larger implications of the Vishaka judgment and the newly enacted Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 before continuing to uncritically promote the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) system in its given form.

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