-- “We don't want to give an option for such complaints in our college, we don't have the time to handle students coming up to us with silly matters, as it is like a licence we give to them to raise an issue.”
These words were recently told to me by the Principal of a reputed college in Bengaluru when I approached him to avail our services to formulate an Anti Sexual Harassment Policy and to set up a complaints committee in the college.
This clarifies that it's not a question of lack of knowledge, but a sheer negligence on the part of the management of educational institutions. And, the only way they decide to buck up, is when an issue is raised and somebody important is in trouble.
All newspapers in the city have been publishing articles on students’ protest against the inactiveness of colleges and educational institutions with regards to prevention of sexual harassment. This is an alarming issue and needs to be addressed.
Let's try to understand the legal regulation or law that addresses this issue - the “University Grants Commission (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations 2015”. This regulation describes the responsibilities of higher educational institutions in taking measures for prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace. UGC Regulations are statutory in nature, and hence all universities and colleges are bound by it.
Here are some of the salient features that need to be adhered to by colleges and higher educational institutions:
- Colleges have to set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) as the redressal mechanism to deal with matters of sexual harassment. This consists of a presiding officer who is a woman and a senior faculty member, two faculty members, two non-teaching employees, three student representatives and one external member from an NGO or a person familiar with issues relating to sexual harassment such as a lawyer. Minimum 50 percent of the members should be women. Persons in senior administrative positions in the college such as Vice Chancellor, Pro Vice-chancellors, Rectors, Registrar, Deans, and heads of Departments should not be members of the ICC.
- Every college or higher education institution has to inform its employees and students on the recourse available to them if they are victims of sexual harassment.
- The management of the college must provide regular training programmes to the members of the Internal Complaints Committee, and sensitise the employees and the students at large on the zero intolerance towards this issue.
- The educational institutions need to take measures to curb sexual harassment in all forms, and the various forms mentioned in the regulations are:
- Harassment from those in a dominant power such as teachers, principal, office staff etc, or in a hierarchical relationship with the higher educational institution, such as chief guest at an event, or a trustee who is associated with the institution etc.
- Sexual Harassment from peers – classmates and students of the college.
- Sexual Harassment from elements outside the geographical limits of the college premises, including visitors or anyone who is not directly associated with the college.
- Colleges/educational institutions must treat sexual harassment as a misconduct in their service rules and initiate action for such misconduct.
- Colleges/higher educational institutions must possess guidelines for “ethics for research supervision” as students of research and doctoral studies are more vulnerable to sexual harassment.
- Colleges must do a half yearly review of the efficacy and the implementation of their anti-sexual harassment policy.
- In case of non-compliance to regulations, the UGC is obligated to
- Withdraw the declaration of fitness to receive any grants from the University Grants Commission.
- Remove the name of the university or college from the list maintained by the commission, under the University Grants Commission Act 1956.
- The UGC can withhold any grants that have been granted to the institution.
- The institution can be declared ineligible for consideration for any assistance under any general of special assistance programmes of the commission.
- The UGC shall publicise in the newspaper or on its official website that the college/institute does not provide zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment.
- In cases of colleges, the UGC shall recommend to the affiliating universities to withdraw the affiliation.
- Recommend the appropriate state or central government to withdraw the status of the university.
The college can implement different methods to make sure that students are aware of the redressal system, and the authorised persons to contact and report such issues. The reporting of incidents of sexual harassment can be done through different means like placing circulars on notice boards, setting up complaint boxes in accessible locations in the college, publishing circulars pertaining to anti-sexual harassment policies on the college website, and emailing students and employees.
With all the above provisions available under the law, it is really alarming to see the frequency of complaints that are raised against colleges and educational institutions regarding sexual harassment, which makes it evident that the managements of colleges and higher educational institutions have not understood the seriousness of this misconduct, and its acrimonious effects on a female staff or a student. It is disheartening to see that our government and regulatory bodies do not have a system to monitor and check if colleges are adhering to the laws, and as a result, students have to take to protests to get their basic rights and protection. As citizens of this country, it is our responsibility to give our support to these initiatives and spread awareness for the greater good.