JNU disbanded GSCASH because it didn’t fall in line

There have been instances of GSCASH members being threatened and pressured to protect the powerful.

WrittenBy:Geeta Kumari
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Even before the Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) made headlines with the administration’s decision to disband and replace it with the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), people in JNU often faced a question, “does your GSCASH work?” Maybe because this is the only place where it has been actually functioning and not just on paper.


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Recently, we have seen students from various universities including Banaras Hindu University and Jadavpur University demanding GSCASH and not the University Grants Commission-instructed ICC. One of the major reasons behind this demand is the autonomy with which GSCASH works in JNU. And this could be the same reason why there is so much systematic attack against the body.

Why autonomy matters?

Why do we argue that the bodies dealing with sexual harassment complaints must be autonomous from institutional interferences? It is primarily because sexual harassment occurs as a result of an unequal power relation. One person exerts power when he/she sexually harass someone, especially in educational institutions where there are many hierarchies. The relationship is not just of an employer and employee but it has many other dimensions like student-teacher, student-staff, teacher-staff, teacher-worker- student relationships and staffs have their own separate hierarchies.

If someone files a case against the higher authority (VC, rector, proctor, teacher) with a committee which is nominated by highest authority of the institution, it would always be under the pressure of these people who have the power to decide which case has to be taken and which one should be dismissed. I was one of the GSCASH members for two years and I can say that there have been instances of GSCASH members being threatened and pressured to protect certain powerful people. Since GSCASH enjoys the autonomy, it has found people in positions of power are guilty.

If a student files a complaint against a teacher, as I have seen many such cases in JNU and other universities, the first defence from the teacher’s side will be, “the complainant is not a good student”. Consequently, the colleagues of the accused and staff will come and testify against the complainant because the defendant enjoys certain power and position. This would be similar in the case of workers against anyone in the hierarchy, the first argument would be “he does not work properly”.

Election versus nomination

On September 18, JNU authorities officially disbanded GSCASH and constituted ICC as per the UGC regulation 2016 which says that “any existing body already functioning with the same objective (like the Gender Sensitization Committee Against Sexual Harassment) should be reconstituted as the ICC”, and that five of its eight members should be appointed by the administration instead of being elected, as they are at present. The JNU Teachers Association (JNUTA) had gone to court to try and prevent a change in the way its members are chosen. Although there are newspaper reports claiming that GSCASH has been ordered to hand over the records of complaints lying in its office to ICC, the next date of hearing is scheduled to be on December 19.

Unlike the ICC, faculty members of GSCASH were elected and when they were voted, they were voted for their work and contributions in the field of gender whether in academics or in movements. Hence, the confidentiality of each case and the tactics of victim-blaming would be dealt with by members who understand what constitutes gender and sexual harassments. The body has members from all constituencies in the campus so that complainants can approach either the respective elected members or other members to file a complaint. Third party complaints are also admitted in GSCASH.

Apart from the elected students’ representatives, there were student members nominated by university students’ union who don’t sit in enquiry committees. The external members of the committee such as counsellors, lawyers, NGO representatives will be part of the enquiries, so that the committee can have objective views and also ensure accountability of the committee members who are part of the institution.

In 2015, GSCASH increased the number of its members owing to the difficulty to work with existing members who are doing everything including enquiries, summoning and transcriptions (which they could not outsource to maintain confidentiality), also because they are accountable to their constituencies. GSCASH members can be thrown out of the committee for breaking the clause of confidentiality.

In 2015, GSCASH JNU improved its definition of sexual harassment adding online abuse to its purview which made the committee more accessible and understandable when somebody approaches it. JNU students and faculty want GSCASH back because it’s not just about conducting enquiries like ICC. GSCASH members also conduct gender sensitisation workshops and awareness programs which is essential to make the campus safe.

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


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