I woke up to the news of sexual harassment of a student at IIT Bombay. Yes, that’s right, it wasn’t news from another university located in a remote corner of India. The student wasn’t the only victim, there were others, who have spoken up or are yet to, the post says. This calls for a brief analysis of the laws protecting students at universities from sexual harassment, and the recourse they can take if an unfortunate incident occurs. An inquiry also into why such a situation might have risen in the first place.
A regulation released by the UGC on May 2, 2016, called the University Grants Commission (Prevention, prohibition and redressal of sexual harassment of women employees and students in higher educational institutions) Regulations, 2015. The best thing about this regulation, unlike the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (PoSH), it is gender neutral. According to this regulation, even men could lodge complaints under the act. Similar to PoSH, 2013 Act, it lays down the whole grievance redressal mechanism in detail, and the procedure for those who are part of the mechanism as well.
The Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) is the go-to place for any student to lodge a confidential complaint. There are specific duties laid down for the university administration regarding the implementation of the act, organisation of sensitisation programs and conducting the training for ICC members.
The rules for membership to the ICC have been drafted very smartly. The ICC in any university must also include student representatives. It is not only mindful, but also inclusive of all genders (not just two), and takes into consideration the specific vulnerabilites of LGBTQ students as well.
So, this beautiful piece of regulation ensures that everyone in the campus is aware of what constitutes sexual harassment, what makes someone a perpetrator, and in case, someone lodges a complaint, the course of action that needs to be taken. The entire procedure has been made very transparent and friendly.
The above-mentioned UGC regulation is applicable on all institutions of higher education. So, despite the presence of such a strong regulation, what led to the incident at IIT Bombay? Were the students (apparently, smartest of the Indian lot) not being made aware of their rights or sensitised towards the menace of sexual harassment? As The Quint reported, the complainant reached out to IIT-B’s Dean of Student Affairs, Soumyo Mukherji. The Quint was told that all such matters are raised at a meeting of the Disciplinary Actions Committee (DAC). Why DAC? Where is the ICC in the Institute of Eminence? Is IIT Bombay noncompliant of UGC regulations?
While there could be many such questions, there are some hard facts, based on my personal experience and those of my friends in the state universities. As has been pointed out, there remains a lack of democratic process in the Vice Chancellor-run university systems, which makes it harder for students to push for changes.
These systems, headed by favored ideologues of the ruling class, reflect an institutional apathy towards such incidences of sexual harassment. Ragging, since it has lead to many deaths, is now something which the administrations are serious about. But you can ask such administrators to attend workshops on harassment and can see the egoistic Professor-Doctors flare up their nostrils as if something undignified has been asked. What possibly in this world, can these scholars be ignorant about?
As far as this particular incident is concerned, this is one of many. There are tools, more than one to control the students, and you are not able to speak freely until you have your degree in hand. While we discuss honor killings in our classrooms, administrative offices of the universities brain storm on “saving the name” of honorable institutions.