This article is with reference to the notification about ‘Reconstitution of Internal Complaints Committee (Sexual Harassment).’
The setting up of an internal complaints committee (ICC) is the result of the implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013, under which the employers are obliged to constitute a committee to deal with issues of sexual harassment against women, as dictated by this press release.
This article aims at sensitizing the crowd in campuses with the provisions covered under this act and to inform students of the workings of this committee. The information provided in this piece relies on both the facts available in the official list of regulations released by the University Grants Commission, in 2016 (henceforth stated as ‘the regulations’) and on information collected from college administrations.
The first question that comes up is the need for a committee like this when there is an abundant supply of legal apparatus available. The answer to this query lies in the taboo and victim-shaming associated with the survivors of sexual harassment or assault. A committee like this is better equipped to handle cases pertaining to the acts covered under its purview and could work as a framework to provide the survivors with a complete moral support system.
The work of the Internal Complaints Committee is to inquire into the matter, gather the required information, prepare a detailed report and send their recommendations for the actions needed to be taken in each case individually. Adding to this, as stated in the regulations under section 5, the committee is also strongly responsible for protecting the survivor(s) of the incident from possible retaliation and adverse actions against them.
It is responsible for protecting the safety of the complainant and to prevent the discrimination that is popularly prevalent in cases like these. Moreover, as stated under section 8(8), the committee is bound to keep the names of the complainant, the witnesses, and the accused secret, especially during the process of an enquiry.
As stated in the regulations under section 4(1), the committee includes a female presiding officer, two faculty members and two non-teaching employees, and three student representatives for cases which involve the student body and an external member.
Section 4(1)-(a) requires the selection of the student representatives by a transparent democratic procedure.
The procedure to lodge a complaint, as stated under section 7 of the regulations, includes for the aggrieved individual to submit a written complaint to the ICC within three months from the date of the last incident. As per the notification released, a complainant may lodge a complaint by contacting the members of the committee and the latter must support the individual in coming forward and getting through the due process.
Although the regulations as stated by the UGC do not explicitly state the role of the ICC in curbing cases of women being harassed only, they do point out the administration’s duty to “act decisively against all gender violence perpetrated against employees and students of all sexes.” In section 3(1)-(d), the regulations also point out the vulnerability of “women employees and students and some male students and students of the third gender.”
As a result, cases of gender violence against male students and students from the transgender community may be dealt with appropriate measures and not be considered under the purview of the ICC.
As the regulations point out in section 2(k), the guidelines equate sexual harassment with actions ranging from unwelcome physical, verbal and non-verbal conduct of sexual nature, to demands for sexual favours, and to unwelcome physical contact and advances. Other than this, the definition also includes the execution of any behaviour that has explicit or implied sexual undertones.
The regulations, under section 10, point out that in case the offender is an employee, they shall be punished in accordance with the institute’s service rules. As far as the cases with student offenders are concerned, the institute, on recommendations of the ICC, may act in various ways. These ways would depend on the extent of the offence and the seriousness of the incident, as investigated by the ICC.
In case of minor offences, the institute may resort to either warnings or as the regulations state, withholding various student privileges or awarding reformative punishments to the offenders. If the extent of the conduct amounts to a specific offence under the Indian Penal Code or any other law, a complaint will be made to the appropriate authority for action, in accordance with the law.
In conclusion, the fight against sexual harassment on campuses and in academia relies on the continuous usage of the ICC. More than the act of providing justice to the survivor, the administration and the institute must continue to sensitize its occupants about the concept of consent and the effects that incidents of sexual harassment have on survivors. This may be done by conduction of workshops (as stated under section 3(1)) and by a continuous attitude of awareness among the residents of the institute so as to bring a collective change in the prevalent mentality.