The rise of sexual harassment and its complaints amongst minors and adolescents are increasing, with more students coming out with their experiences of harassment in homes, streets, campuses etc. Yet, universities fail to comprehend the seriousness of these issues, where safe learning spaces are getting infested with sexual misconduct and perpetuating the impunity of harassers. The simple lack of awareness of the systems available leads to unreported instances of sexual harassment and unintentional empowerment of abusers.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) Guidelines to battle sexual harassment in institutions by establishing an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) have still not been brought into action, despite the reinforcing letter by UGC to all colleges.
What are the functions of the Internal Complaints Committee?
The Internal Complaints Committee has to be established in every Delhi University college to enquire into matters of sexual harassment complaints from students, faculty and other non-teaching employees of the institution. If the case requires, they would also need to report to the police and follow protocol.
safe learning spaces are getting infested with sexual misconduct and perpetuating the impunity of harassers.
The committee is required to organize workshops on sexual harassment and gender sensitization on a regular basis to spread awareness about the cause. It is mandatory for the contact details of the committee and its members to be mentioned on the college website.
Sexual harassment here includes unwanted sexual conduct or insinuation in verbal or physical form. These actions are unwelcomed and cause discomfort to the victim and might be carried against students, faculty, non-teaching staff, residents of college, etc.
Here’s an excerpt of sexual misconducts mentioned in the guidelines:
Who constitutes the Internal Complaints Committee?
The internal complaints committee is headed by a Chairperson who should be a senior member of the faculty and a woman. Two members of the faculty, two non-teachers and a social worker who has worked in the field of women’s rights or something similar should also be appointed. The committee must also appoint three students, who will be consulted only in cases of harassment associated with students.
The functioning of the ICC
Within 7 days of receiving the complaint, the ICC is required to send respondents a copy. The respondent is then required to reply within 10 days along with required documents and witnesses. Once the complaint and reply are compiled and the enquiry has been conducted within 90 days, the recommendations are sent to both parties and the HEI (Higher Educational Institution).
The executive authority of HEI takes the recommendations into consideration and then decides if whether it should be enforced within 30 days of reception of the report unless an appeal is made by either party.
If the HEI decides to act in alignment with the recommendations made by the ICC, they are then required to serve justice to the victim within 10 days. The reconciliation should not be monetary and the resolution of the conflict could be solved in purely punitive terms, for example, withholding privileges, suspension, rustication, etc.
Status quo of Gargi College
In our 3 years at Gargi College, not once were we made aware of the existence of this grievance redressal system.The safety that one feels as they walk around in their institution turns into alienation by being unaware of one’s rights after being subjected to harassment.
The students of Gargi College are getting mobilized and aiming to inquire information on the workings of a non-existent ICC, by filing an RTI (Right to Information). Pinjra Tod and the Student’s Social Activism Cell (SSAC) are collaborating to educate students about their rights.
In our 3 years at Gargi College, not once were we made aware of the existence of this grievance redressal system.
Yashi Saksena, founder of SSAC and a student activist explains, “The students themselves aren’t aware of the redressal system, which makes the process of making the committee and college accountable more laborious. Our focus is on making the students aware of this committee and use our solidarity to bring ICC in motion”.
Despite the UGC acknowledging that certain groups like sexual minorities, women and men can be harassed, the lack of attention being paid to the functioning of the ICC can perhaps be attributed to the mainstream view that harassment rarely takes place in women-only colleges and that women cannot be harassers. The archaic views increasingly make our narratives unbelievable and our institutions less safe.
Gargi College fails to meet any of these criterions listed in the UGC Guidelines and endangers the safety of students, teachers and non-teaching staff. A lot of unlearning would be required to dismantle archaic ideas of sexual harassment but initiating a discourse around it simply by officially recognizing its existence would be a good start.
This piece is part of our series #MakeMyCampusSafe in collaboration with Newslaundry.
Featured Image Credit: DU Admissions