Who needs a right to ‘sit’? What on the Earth can that be? You can simply land your body weight wherever you find an ample and clean place. No, dear reader. Life isn’t that simple for all. Let alone sitting, some don’t have the basic right to lean against a wall, talk to fellow people or use washroom as frequently as they want. Because if they do so, they would violate the rules at their workplace and end up losing a part of their salary.
No, they are no trafficked laborers but saleswomen in shops of Kerala. Their shift stretches over a span of 12 hours and they get two 5-minutes long bathroom breaks in between. Moreover, the bathroom is no less than 100m away. They must finish eating their lunch in 30 minutes. And no sitting, no leaning against walls or talking to colleagues.
Salesperson Anitha recollects the horror she had to face while at work in one of the many saree shops in the city. Her pay was cut because the owner of the shop saw her leaning against the wall for a breather, according to the visuals he saw on CCTV camera.
Women employees from Kalyan Sarees, Thrissur went on a strike demanding the right to sit. Many of them suffered from kidney-related issues, varicose veins, swollen feet, and back pain owing to this nonsensical ‘no-sitting’ diktat.
The woman who began this legal battle for ‘right to sit’ is Viji Penkoot who runs a women’s union, Asanghadita Mekhala Tozhilali Union (AMTU). As most trade unions are headed by men, grabbing the spotlight for this serious issue of women has always been a challenge for her.
Viji told The Times of India, “The shop owners, including the Kerala merchants’ union, had said if people wanted to sit or use the toilet, they should just sit at home. That really made us angry, and we started the ‘iruppu samaram’, or the right to sit.”
Kerala Shops and Commercial Establishments Act already protects women from sexual harassment at workplace but that’s not enough when the health of these women is being so inhumanly compromised. A recent decision by the Kerala government stated that amends would be made to the Labour law: these include directives to employers to limit women employees to work eight hours a day and provide a chair or stool, allowing them to sit. These amends to the law will also require employers to allow women an afternoon tea break, and a lunch break.
Should we thank God that the ladies earned their ‘right to sit’ or be worried that we live in a world where employers need to ‘earn’ their right to sit?
All image source : AMTU FB page