Indraprastha College for Women: Where anti-harassment mechanisms have a few glitches

The authorities have taken note of the discrepancies - missing contact details of ICC members and lack of elections to the body - and promised action.

WrittenBy:Satvika Jain
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Indraprastha College for Women is the oldest women’s college in Delhi. What is the state of the sexual harassment redressal mechanism here? How does the anti-harassment Internal Complaints’ Committee (ICC) function? Students, professors as well as the principal weighed in on the issue.

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The heartening news is that the college seems to have a good record in terms of women’s safety on campus, but needs to boost awareness about the existence of student support provisions as well as make them more accessible.

According to the college authorities, they have provided all information about the anti-harassment committee on their website and prospectus, and also discuss the matter during orientation ceremony at the start of the academic year.

Shreya Singh, a student of Philosophy (Hons), pointed out that details about the committee are shared in every student-faculty meeting and they are informed about its members frequently.

But many students remain largely unfamiliar with the mechanisms. A few said they have heard of the existence of the panel but have no idea about who constitutes it, or how it functions.

The ICC constitution requires that college authorities prominently display details of the committee members and the penalty. Information about the members is available on the college website, but their contact details and the procedure for filing a complaint are missing.

Students reported that they were most comfortable approaching professors they trusted in case of harassment in college. When asked how safe they felt inside and outside the campus, the response was in favour of the college and students felt secure because of the liberal atmosphere and supportive environment.

Outside the principal’s office, displayed prominently and accessible at all times is a complaints’ box – a positive step in encouraging students to report matters.

In terms of spreading awareness, although not directly initiated by the college, is the Legal Awareness Lecture on sexual harassment organised by the Women’s Development Cell of the college.

The ICC panel’s Presiding Officer Dr Meena Bhargava said meetings of the committee are not called unless there has been a complaint, and reported that not one case had come up during her term at the post.

The principal of the college, Dr Babli Moitra Saraf, takes pride in this fact. She says the mechanisms and atmosphere they have built up over the years ensure that students are not harassed, and if at all a case comes up, it is handled with utmost care. The complainant is in charge of how action is taken, whether it is through the police, through the ICC or through a procedure where their identity remains safe.

Of the three professors that form a part of the anti-harassment panel, one member refused to offer any comments.

When asked about the role of student representatives inside the committee, the Presiding Officer said the respective presidents of the Women’s Development Cell, Hostel Union and Students’ Union form the three student representatives. But this is against UGC guidelines, which specify that the students should be elected through a democratic procedure, from the undergraduate, Master’s and research courses.

There have not been any such elections within the college and while the respective presidents are democratically elected, they have not been elected specifically for the ICC. Even when there was a notice from the Delhi University Proctor instructing all colleges to conduct elections for the ICC student members on March 12, no such elections were held.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why students are ignorant about the committee, since campaigning (which hasn’t been undertaken) about these issues will help spread awareness.

The college authorities seem to have taken note of these inefficiencies, though. A student representative who has been actively engaging with the authorities on the ICC elections says they have agreed to post an updated notice about the anti-sexual harassment committee, including the names and numbers of the staff members as well as student representatives. The electoral procedure for election of ICC student representatives will be initiated from the next academic session.

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