If one works against sexual harassment in DU, that person becomes a trouble maker

Trashing Ordinance 15(D) in 2013 made two major changes that the ICC is no longer gender neutral and is left a tool for the authorities.

ByVinita Chandra
If one works against sexual harassment in DU, that person becomes a trouble maker
  • whatsapp
  • copy

Sexual harassment guidelines in the workplace came into being with the Vishakha judgment in 1997. It did not emerge from a vacuum as that decade saw serious debate over the protection of women from sexual harassment at the workplace. Noting the lack of a law to protect women from sexual harassment at the workplace, the judgment says, “the present civil and penal laws in India do not adequately provide for specific protection of women from sexual harassment in work places and that enactment of such legislation will take considerable time.”

In Delhi University (DU), a group of teachers and students had formed the Forum Against Sexual Harassment and had been holding meetings and discussions regularly. They had also conducted safety audits on campus and surrounding areas. With the Vishakha guidelines mandating that, “It is necessary and expedient for employers in work places as well as other responsible persons or institutions to observe certain guidelines to ensure the prevention of sexual harassment of women”, it became possible to lay down procedures to deal officially with cases of sexual harassment.

In September 2003, the Executive Council of DU passed Ordinance 15(D): Prohibition and Punishment for Sexual Harassment, and the policy on sexual harassment came into effect in 2004. The ordinance used the Vishakha guidelines to frame a policy that would be suited to the needs of a large university. The policy takes into account that the University of Delhi is spread across two campuses, has 79 affiliated colleges, two-and-a-half lakh students plus several thousand employees, a majority of who commute to their ‘work place’ from various parts of the city and the National Capital Region. It notes that “sexual harassment is an act of power, and a public and collective violation that is often trivialised by labelling it an interpersonal transgression. It is, therefore, a violation of gender equality and also of the right to a safe education and work environment for all. Sexual harassment not only affects a few individuals but reinforces gender-based discrimination for everyone.”

The ordinance took cognizance of the vulnerable position of male students and ensured that it was gender neutral; recognising the way power relations function in colleges and the university it further ensured that the complaint committees were independent of executive authorities. In order to involve all students and to ensure that each student had a representative vote in electing members to the committees, it drew up an elaborate election-cum-nomination procedure whereby every class would elect a student representative to the Gender Sensitising Committee (GSC), and the GSC would function as an electoral college to elect three students to the Complaints Committee. Student members were to sit in every meeting and for every complaint, whether it related to students or not. It formulated a timeline for committees to be formed, a specific time frame for complaints to be resolved, detailed guidelines for procedures to be followed in cases of complaints, separate graded punishments for teachers and students found guilty, and most importantly, detailed instructions for prevention of sexual harassment through ongoing gender sensitisation and awareness.

With the introduction of a policy on sexual harassment, colleges mandatorily had to set up College Complaint Committees (CCC). Some colleges like Ramjas College, Kirori Mal College and others implemented the policy not just in the setting up of the CCC but also in ensuring that the Gender Sensitising Committee was active through the year in organising activities that would spread awareness of what constitutes sexual harassment and the redressal procedure. There was an attempt to bring in awareness of issues of gender, to sensitise young people who were exploring their sexuality and their place in society as young adults, so that greater sensitisation would lead to an awareness that would work towards prevention of sexual harassment. Class-wise elections for student representatives meant class-wise campaigning to make students aware of the gender issues involved in the elections they were participating in. In the last ten years sexual harassment became an issue that students and teachers started being aware of, however marginally and lacking in depth that awareness may have been.

In 2013, in the wake of the Jyoti Singh rape case, the long awaited legislation on sexual harassment was passed – the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. Almost two years later the University Grants Commission (Prevention, prohibition and redressal of sexual harassment of women employees and students in higher educational institutions) Regulations, 2015 was passed. In July 2016, UGC sent a letter to all colleges to implement the UGC regulations. Unfortunately, neither the UGC nor the university administration held any consultations with stakeholders or experts in the area, or even students and faculty who had been implementing the sexual harassment policy for the last ten years, before formulating the new regulations. Instead of improving on the sexual harassment policy that had been framed more than a decade earlier, the new UGC regulations were hurriedly passed in the Academic Council (AC) and the Executive Council (EC) of Delhi University by the Vice-Chancellor using his emergency powers.

Delhi University took six years to formulate Ordinance 15(D), to hold workshops, get feedback, fine tune it, and then passed it through the AC and the EC with due process. Ten years later in 2013 when they were required to update the policy, they took three years to do it in which there was no discussion of the many areas of improvement required, of updating the definition of sexual harassment in a time of rapidly changing technology, and the Vice-Chancellor felt that no discussion should take place among representative stakeholders in the AC and EC but that it should be passed using his emergency powers.

The two major and, unfortunately, extremely regressive changes that came in were that the policy is no longer gender neutral and so does not cover male students, and also that the Internal Complaints Committee that replaced the earlier College Complaints Committee is no longer independent of the authorities; indeed, it is now entirely nominated by the Principal or Head of Department. The latter change is a death blow to fostering confidence in justice through due procedure, which is weak at best. It is not surprising that the university authorities would want to replace an ordinance which does not allow them any control with one that puts all the power in their hands. If we are to hope for redressal to sexual harassment in colleges and the university, it is of utmost importance and urgency to bring back Ordinance 15(D) in Delhi University and GSCASH in the Jawaharlal Nehru University with immediate effect.

Experience of working with Sexual Harassment Complaint Committees and Gender Sensitising Committees shows that the crucial step to preventing sexual harassment is not so much punishment but sensitisation and awareness. Both the Policy of 2004 and the Regulations of 2015 lay emphasis on spreading awareness of issues of sexual harassment and gender. However, there has been no effort on the part of the university to make colleges or departments accountable for ensuring that any effort is made to spread awareness. Faculty are very resistant to being educated about what constitutes sexual harassment or to issues of unequal power due to gender. The semester system has radically reduced the time required to engage in any depth with students on these issues. There is no time set aside to orient students and teachers to sexual harassment issues and awareness.

Universities in the United States and elsewhere have mandatory orientation programmes for all students and faculty before the session begins. The arduous task of the continuous process of discussions, talks, seminars, films and other activities is left to the voluntary involvement of a handful of faculty members, who usually function with hostile opposition from other faculty members who see them as trouble makers. If we want a space which all students can inhabit without the pervasive fear of harassment so that they can open their minds to new ideas and new concepts then we need to do a great deal more to strengthen existing procedures. Unfortunately, there seems to be little interest by those in power in moving in that direction; instead, the new law has disenfranchised half the student population from its ambit, and has intimidatingly put power in the hands of the authorities who are most vested in maintaining status quo.

If you’re a student, professor or an alumnus and want to write/share how your college deals with sexual harassment, the systems to check it or the lack thereof, email us at campus@newslaundry.com

newslaundry logo

Pay to keep news free

Complaining about the media is easy and often justified. But hey, it’s the model that’s flawed.

You may also like