Underneath the glitz and glamour of the Indian film industry, there thrives a 59-year-old tradition that bars women from becoming a make-up artist. Only men are allowed to wield the brush and women are characterised as hairdressers.
The reason, as stated by the unions concerned, is to ensure that male members are not deprived of work since if female artists were allowed memberships, male will not get any work.
This glass ceiling however is all set to break with the Supreme Court refusing to let this “gender bias” continue. “How can we allow such a practice to go on? How can an organisation ignore a particular gender or class of people when this is not permissible under the Constitution,” said a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and V Gopala Gowda.
The bench was hearing a petition by female make-up artists Charu Khurana and others, who were rebuffed by the Cine Costume Make-up Artists and Hair Dressers Association (CCMAA), considered the Bollywood’s official body of these professionals, since malehood was the indispensable qualification required. The regional federations of make-up artists in the film industries of Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad also bar women from the job.
Charu’s counsel Jyotika Kalra told the court that Charu had qualified from the Cinema Makeup School, California, but her application for membership was rejected by the CCMAA in 2009 only because she was a woman.
The popular Onida TV advertisement ‘Neighbour’s Envy, Owner’s Pride’ with the tailed-devil was Charu’s work. She also has a string of other well known TV commercials to her credit.
Kalra pointed out this “discriminatory practice” deprived female make-up artists of their fundamental rights to work and earn livelihood guaranteed by Articles 14 and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.
Disgruntled over the denial of the jobs to women, the bench held this kind of discrimination will give rise to the “war of sexes” and will certainly have “huge ramifications” in ensuring constitutional promise of gender equality.
The court said these unions could not function like “mafia” in keeping women out of the jobs although they were skillful and qualified. An attempt by the central government to wriggle out of their responsibility, passing the buck on the unions, also invited the ire of the bench.
The court directed Additional Solicitor General L N Rao to look into the matter and urge the ministry concerned to take effective steps to remove such discrimination. It asked the ASG to to collect data from all the states in this regard and file a comprehensive affidavit on the steps the Centre proposes to take. The court will hear the matter next in August.
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