Students, irrespective of their background, enrolled in state-funded institutions such as Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) do not only gain education based on subject knowledge but are politicized on various issues of social concern, sensitized on issues such as gender, caste and class. The Gender Sensitization Committee against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) always served as a major functionary in sensitizing students, karamcharis and faculty members in the campus on gender-based issues.
The Karuna Chanana Working Group report that was submitted in October 1997, based on the guidelines of the Vishakha Judgment, had proposed the formation of the GSCASH in the campus. The guidelines under Vishakha provide a plan and framework for an institutional response against harassment/violence and to break the silence around it.
The nature of the recommended gender sensitization body is autonomous with a motive to sensitize the JNU community, to mediate crises and to conduct enquiries into specific cases of harassment through accepted procedures. The working group in their report stated that the composition of such a body should include all levels of representation from students and karamcharis/security staff as well as faculties and senior administration.
It also sought a minimum of fifty percent representation for women. The GSCASH was accepted by the executive council in 1998 and their constitution was adopted on May 13, 1999, after many consultations, discussions and open houses in JNU.
the well performing, vibrant body of GSCASH was scrapped off arbitrarily and replaced with an ICC by the administration of JNU.
There have been various modifications to GSCASH, the recent one includes the Saksham Committee Guidelines by the University Grants Commission (UGC) in 2013. Due to the nature of its good work, the GSCASH drew attention from different agencies working on gender issues. But the well performing, vibrant body of GSCASH was scrapped off arbitrarily and replaced with an ICC by the administration of JNU, through a circular dated 18th September 2017.
The members of UGC appointed the Saksham Task Force for ensuring gender sensitization, who have criticized the JNU administration’s arbitrary decision to disband the GSCASH. In an open letter to the administration, the members of the committee including Meenakshi Gopinath, Mary E John, Anjali Bharadwaj, Janaki Abraham, Kulwinder Kaur, Sanjay Sreevatsava, Susie Tharu and Uma Chakravarthi mentioned that, “We are consequently at a loss to understand why a well-functioning body in JNU needed to be disbanded. Had we missed some important aspect that we need to know about?”
Further, the letter clearly stated that “Our report made it clear that our proposals for the composition of Anti-Sexual Harassment committees were intended for campuses where ICCs were not in existence or were not Vishakha – Compliant- they were never intended to replace or supersede committees like those of JNU’s GSCASH which we had found to be fully Vishakha-compliant”.
According to the letter, the models of gender sensitization and anti-sexual harassment committees recommended by the Task Force in their report were drawn from the structure and processes operational in JNU (the GSCASH) and University of Delhi. The Saksham report had proposed the formation of an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) within Higher Education Institutions (HEI) in India when there aren’t any complaint and sensitization committees in operation.
The report specifically advised that the ICC members must be representatives and such representation must not be directly nominated by the employer, rather, transparency and a principled basis for membership in the ICC should be arrived at after involving all sections of the HEI community.
The major reasons for harassment at workplaces is the power relation between the victims of harassment of all kinds and their oppressor/accused. The ICC of JNU fails to challenge such power relations. Further, it has a designed structure that reflects the interest of those in power. GSCASH is one such institution that challenges that power structure.
The students in resistance to the administration’s move to replace GSCASH with ICC held a general election to the GSCASH. The following are the excerpts drawn from the interviews of a few JNU students.
According to Bhupali, a present student representative of GSCASH and Ambedkarite activist, “There was a sense among the students from oppressed sections that GSCASH is also led by Savarnas, like almost all other institutions in JNU and their voices are left unheard. Now after seeing the representation from these groups they feel that they do have a voice here and confident to fight cases of sexual harassment. The earlier distrust is decreasing due to the increased inclusive character of the GSCASH as a body and there is a dire need to scrap up ICC which strengthens social and power-based hierarchy and recognise the GSCASH as a legal body as existed earlier”.
the efficiency of the ICC as a redressal mechanism doesn’t really matter when it doesn’t challenge power relations.
Another representative of GSCASH, Srabani Chakravarthi holds the view that, “the crackdown on GSCASH should not be seen in isolation as a separate issue pertaining only to JNU. It is an approach of the present regime towards gender. Though gender is of last priority for all the ruling parties in the country, the Sangh Parivar led present regime always had such an approach towards gender. The scrapping of the GSCASH is part of a larger agenda”.
“GSCASH is a vibrant functioning body which, apart from being a body of enquiry and redressal for all grades of sexual harassment and assault, it was also a gender sensitization body which ensured complete confidentiality of complaints and created safe environments free of intimidation, targeting and victimization whereas ICC is mere complaints committee and the highest authorities of the university are given impunity”, said Sarika, a former postgraduate student.
“Disbanding GSCASH is a right-wing agenda to curtail the democratic ethos of an existing body which tries to ensure gender sensitization. The formation of the ICC is something very ill thought of. If they want to change the name of GSCASH they should have done it but structurally replacing GSCASH with ICC is a threat to the freedom of individuals because the emotional and psychological conditions of victims are left unattended and also the privacy of the victim and complainant is under threat,” stated Lata, an activist and a research scholar in Spanish.
Here, the efficiency of the ICC as a redressal mechanism doesn’t really matter when it doesn’t challenge power relations. It is of no use at all when the highest authorities/employers are given impunity. In such cases of indemnity where the employer is the accused, it leads to situations where victims get criminalised. In a conservatively structured society like India, when the privacy of the complainant is not protected, it will have an adverse impact on the personal and community lives of the victims/complainants.
The redressal body should be effective enough to provide support to complainants in all spheres as well as act as a gender sensitizing mechanism in relevant spaces. Hence, complaints committees such as the ICC, where its representatives are nominated, needs to be remodified into the GSCASH with democratically elected representatives. The disbanded GSCASH needs to be reconstituted as before.
This piece is part of our series #MakeMyCampusSafe in collaboration with Newslaundry.
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