The Reason Why I Am Unsure Of The New Sexual Harassment Law In Delhi University

Posted on September 4, 2015 in Campus Watch

By Bhanvi Satija:

Not so long ago, when I started college, I was filled with excitement, of entering a new and liberating space, as well as fear and anxiety. Stories in the newspapers, tales heard from siblings, and Bollywood movies had messed a little with my brain before I joined – the fear of being teased, ragged, or harassed, not just in college but outside, on the way, or just about anywhere else – had haunted me for nights before the first day.

Image source: Tony Cairns, Flickr creative commons
For representation only. Image source: Tony Cairns, Flickr creative commons

Much to my relief, and to that of many others, I found out on the first day that Delhi University has measures to protect me from all of my above stated fears. With the Anti Ragging Act and Committee against Sexual Harassment in place I have felt much safer and relieved. The committee was established, in every college, as per the Ordinance XV (D) in the year 2003. The main functions of the committee was to ensure a safe environment, free from sexual harassment and to encourage equality. These meant providing for both, preventive and remedial measures, for the students, teaching and non-teaching staff across the university.

These committees were present at various levels – college (College Complaints Committee), cluster of departments/centre (University Units Complaints Committee), campus (Central Pool Complaints Committee), and university level (Apex Complaints Committee). Out of these, the college committee (CCC) was of utmost importance was it was the most approachable. The CCC consisted of two teacher representatives, two non-teaching staff representatives, and three student representatives – that was elected and appointed by proper procedure. Apart from this, the committee was expected to co-opt two people from outside the college with known contributions to women’s issues, preferably with a legal background. The procedure for registering a complaint was also quick and easy: all complaints were to be brought to any of the above mentioned committees by the person seeking redressal himself/herself. The only exception wherein the complaint brought in by a person other than the one seeking redressal was considered, was when the person himself/herself was in forced confinement. If the complainant wishes, he/she could be accompanied by a representative.

However, in 2014, this ordinance was scrapped and replaced by a new law in Delhi University, which is in accordance with the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2013. The procedure of filing a complaint under this is similar to that of the earlier system. However, the committees and their composition under this new law are entirely different. The committees, now called Internal Complaints Committees are made entirely of college employees with no student representation. Moreover, none of the provisions under this new law provide remedy in student vs. student cases. This means that if a student is harassed/molested/teased by a fellow classmate, there exists no remedial measures for him/her. The act also excludes the LGBT community from its ambit. As reported by The Hindu, both students and faculty are not quite satisfied with the new law – as it is unrepresentative of the LGBT, gender biased, and exclusive – as opposed to the earlier ordinance. It leaves out more stakeholders, than it seems to take into account.

Apart from the controversy surrounding the provisions, the low awareness about the existence of these committees is also a matter of concern. On being asked about the College Complaints Committee here is what a few students said:
I don’t think there is such a committee in the college.” – First year student at SRCC.
I don’t think there is a special committee for it, but we have been advised to contact our teachers in case something happens, immediately.” – Second year student at Ramjas.

Even though awareness is extremely subjective, the situation varies from college to college and even, from one department to another. While one fresher from LSR seems to be unaware of the committee, another first year student said, “We were told about the committee during one of our orientations. We are also supposed to elect a class representative soon for the same. Plus, there are noticeboards with information about the committee and the member’s contacts everywhere.”

One of the committee members at LSR agrees that the committee needs to improve on the lines of awareness and sensitivity “I don’t think I can call it an ‘improvement’ as such but it’s something on the agenda for our committee and we will be working upon it this year. We plan to organise a couple of sensitisation workshops this year, so that everyone becomes more aware of their rights, and also about the fact that this committee is in place for them, and they can approach us anytime.” Despite the awareness problem, the member said that the system in place has been quite successful till date.

While this particular committee member says, with conviction, that the system has been successful, it is yet to be seen if the new law, which doesn’t give redressal to the LGBTQ and no longer takes harassment cases between students in its ambit, would be effective in the long run.

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