The University Grants Commission (UGC), back in 2015, enlisted norms for dealing with sexual harassment in higher educational institutions. However, only multiple protests and a number of cases of sexual harassment later, constituent colleges of Delhi University (DU) have begun to establish an effective and democratically regulated Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) in colleges.
Neeta Sehgal, Delhi University’s Acting Proctor, instructed all constituent colleges to form an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) as per the UGC Regulations (2015) on the Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions in April 2017.
The stated ruling of the UGC mandates the complaints committee to consist of a woman presiding officer, two academic faculties, two non-teaching staff, a representative from a recognised NGO, and three elected student representatives. Sehgal stated the existing ICCs do not consist of elected student representatives. The UGC directive also requires other bodies such as the Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) and Women Development Cell (WDC) to be reconstituted as the ICC.
In the recent past, Hindu College, Miranda House and Ramjas College have regularly conducted elections for the ICC. The committees have received a sizable number of complaints about harassment by PG and flat owners. They have also conducted workshops on understanding sexual harassment and legal remedies to it. It serves as the legal grievance redressal mechanism alongside the existing gender forum of the colleges.
The complaints’ committee in most colleges is dormant, neglected and unconstitutional. Despite DU’s April 2016 ruling, Daulat Ram College at North Campus had never put up an election notice. Students reveal, Principal Dr Savita Roy stated the ICC was already in place. As per the principal’s recent communication to the proctor, the college’s ICC consists of five female teachers and three students, one of them being the college’s vice-president. “Election notices were never put up; the principal arbitrarily sent a notice to the proctor listing these students as members of the ICC. We tried speaking to the principal about the same, but to no avail”, stated Alka, a student at Daulat Ram College (name changed on person’s insistence).
Students conducted a signature awareness campaign on the importance and treatment of the ICC earlier this month. Having gathered 350+ signatures, they approached the principal. The campaigners inform that the principal was not available to meet them on numerous instances. The callousness particularly came to light because of the recent sexual harassment case at the college. The college administration maintained an ‘anticipated stony silence’ on the issue. Pressured by students demanding the termination of the professor, the college informed that the accused had already given his resignation. Surprisingly, the professor was taking regular classes until the day of his arrest on February 5, despite a complaint being lodged against him six days before (January 30).
Students inform that the professors repeatedly advise them not to go against the college authorities. The college defends their stance pointing to the counselling cell which serves a similar purpose as the defunct ICC. However, the counselling cell isn’t a legal body to be addressing issues related to sexual harassment as the ICC.
St. Stephen’s College finds itself on the same footing too. However, unlike Daulat Ram College, the movement at the college has garnered much support from the academic faculty.
Stephen’s (like Daulat Ram College) informed the proctor about a functional ICC, as well. Surprisingly, the deployed-convenor of the ICC was on leave for two years and returned to the college in late 2017. The students inform that the college does not follow the annual election regulation as mandated by the UGC.
“The college’s response is pretty ambivalent. However, along with the academic faculty, we are working to create awareness about the ICC. We are negotiating with the student’s union president as well”, stated Geetika* (name changed on person’s insistence). The informal collective intends to organise an exhibition on sexual harassment in the university setting at the college premises.
Unlike Daulat Ram, students at St. Stephen’s are hopeful about the formulation and upkeep of democratic regulations of the ICC. Daulat Ram’s greatest challenge is the lack of awareness among students about the importance of the committee which is one of the reasons it has not witnessed a lot of student solidarity till date. The lack of encouragement from the academic faculty is another challenge. However, with the recent turn of events at Daulat Ram College, the speculated silence might be averted soon.
As per the recent Delhi University notification, the elections to various posts of the ICC would be held on March 12. The final date for filing nominations is February 23, following which the verified candidatures shall be announced on February 27. With the issues concerning the formulation of Internal Complaints Committee and sexual harassment in university spaces becoming pot-boilers, the turnout shall be much awaited.