In recent news, many of us have been shocked to see that educational institutions in India are not as safe as we had imagined. From the sexual harassment of students at PSBB school in Chennai to that of Christ (deemed-to-be) University, Bengaluru, there is one common thread tying these instances together: predatory faculty members taking advantage of young students.
What is surprising about such cases is that educational institutions appear to be consistently more preoccupied with their reputation than they are about the safety of their students. They either claim to have been unaware of the ongoing harassment within their campus or, at best, make ambiguous claims about how the students are their priority.
However, we are yet to see any concrete action taken by the institutions themselves. Any public response they have made, or any consequence the perpetrators receive, is often an outcome of large-scale public pressure rather than the institute’s concern for the students.
We can no longer tolerate negligence of years of harassment nor half-hearted promises that the students have their school/college backing them up.
The good news is that, whether or not prompted by the institute’s conscience, the law mandates that certain systemic safeguards be available to students in cases of sexual harassment. Therefore, students must know what protections exist to serve them and use them to their advantage.
Students emerge as a particularly vulnerable group when it comes to sexual harassment. The reason? Power dynamics.
In many ways, students are dependent on their teachers for grades and access to opportunities for professional growth. On the other hand, teachers are not answerable to students. This creates an imbalance in their accountability to one another. The field is ripe for the exploitation of students and threats to ensure that they stay silent.
Additionally, many educational spaces in India reflect our society’s patriarchal and casteist notions, thriving with rape culture and regressive ideas of what makes the “respectable”, believable victim.
They enforce both covert and overt rules of moral policing such as dress codes and different curfews based on gender. These put the onus of “being safe” on students instead of placing responsibility on the adults to ensure that they are not violating any boundaries. The notion of the “perfect victim” also translates into the “perfect student” ideal in cases of harassment.
For example, if a “rule-bending” student with below-average grades tries to reach out for support in a matter of harassment, the chances are that the authorities are less likely to believe them.
They may be bombarded with questions like, “What were you wearing?” or “Why were you outdoors after curfew?”, neglecting the fact that the breaking of arbitrary, administration-imposed rules do not warrant that anyone should get harassed.
Because the odds are often stacked against them, students must be aware of their rights in an educational setting, particularly in cases of sexual harassment.
Our workshops have found an unsettling reality: colleges are not doing enough to raise this awareness among students. They are often confused about whether their experiences count as harassment or whether harassment off-campus is under the jurisdiction of the Internal Committee (IC).
More worryingly, many see the IC as a police-like, supervisory body, whereas it should be a source of comfort and support.
The law mandates certain institutional safeguards for students that can balance the scales of accountability between students and authority figures if they know how to use them. Achieving this balance is the vision behind Jhatkaa.org’s IC toolkit and workshops. Through widespread dissemination of the toolkit, we aim to:
If you or your peers are interested in knowing more about the functioning of a proper Internal Committee and the expectations you should have from your college administration in cases of harassment, look no further. You can sign up for our IC workshop and aspire for a safe educational environment for you and your friends.