Protection from Harassment in Colleges #womenfightback
Author : MyLegalWork Staff
Education is something that opens up our minds and broadens our thinking. Sadly, this is not what happens at the places of education. Educational institutes are considered as temples of knowledge in our nation, but these places turn out to be a nightmare for some. Sexual harassment and ragging are rampant at most colleges and universities. You might think that it has never happened to you so why would it happen to others or why should I bother? But think again. You’d be surprised at the facts!
According to a survey conducted by Ara Johannes, a shocking 61.7% women reported that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment in or coming to college. Another funded study by UGC revealed that 40 per cent students in colleges across India faced some kind of ragging while only 8.6 per cent out of these actually reported the incidents.
What then is the solution to this? How do we fight against such atrocities? To make life at educational institutes smooth and carefree, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has drafted a list of norms to be followed by each educational institute. It has even issued circulars to all the universities to establish a permanent cell to combat sexual harassment, violence against women and ragging at the universities and colleges. The UGC Handbook on Sexual Harassment of Women in Workplace is available at the UGC website. The handbook deals with the duties and responsibilities of employers, institutions and organisations with regard to safety of women at their workplace.
To make things unambiguous, it has also framed an exhaustive definition of campus, which includes outdoor premises and official visits. Other things include key features, punishments for such an act and the repercussions of non compliance.
Here are some highlights from these guidelines:
- The institute must build awareness among students about sexual harassment and what to do if they are victims/survivors of such behaviour.
- It is mandatory for an institute to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) in accordance with the guidelines. If any institute fails on this front, then they can be penalised by the courts for non-compliance. The Madras High Court ordered payment of 1.68 Crores in damages to the aggrieved party due to the non-constitution of the requisite committee. UGC may also refuse future grants, recommendations, etc. to the defaulting institution.
- The complaint must be made within 3 months of the last incident.
- The complaint can be made by a relative, a friend or any person who has knowledge of the incident in case of physical or mental incapacity. In case the victim/survivor cannot make the complaint for any other reason, any person with knowledge of the incident can file the complaint with written consent of the victim/survivor.
- The complaint is the written statement of the victim/survivor. It must contain the details of each incident completely. This means that there must be a description of each incident, along with the date and time of such incident, the name of the perpetrator and the working relationship between the victim/survivor. For example: In a college, if harassed by a teacher, then the working relationship would be teacher-student; if harassed by a fellow student, the working relationship is batchmates/classmates.
- If the complainant wishes, her identity can be kept a secret.
- The complainant can freely choose whether she wants a formal or an informal means of resolution. The ICC cannot pressure the complainant into directly resolving her grievances with the perpetrator.
- By informal method, we mean conciliation which includes counselling, educating or warning the perpetrator. By formal method, we mean an actual step-by-step process in which the ICC will conduct an inquiry.
- If found guilty, the perpetrator (teacher or student) may be:
- his promotion/increment may be cancelled;
- made to pay compensation to the complainant;
- he may be terminated/expelled;
- suspended; etc.
- The Inquiry must be completed within a period of 90 days from the receipt of the complaint.
- After the inquiry is completed and the report is made, such report must be submitted to the Institution within 10 days.
- Action on such report should be taken within a period of 60 days.
- If the victim/survivor is unsatisfied with the findings of the committee, then they can appeal to a court or tribunal within a period of 90 days.
Since most of the cases of sexual harassment in colleges are against women students and teachers, it is imperative that they are given the weapon to deal with such degrading behaviour. We also come across cases of ragging and the resultant suicides or deaths happening because of such harassment. In order to curb both these and other kinds of harassments, it is necessary that, first, we as citizens, become vigilant about such laws and take the necessary action following such incidents. The compelling factor for looking into this matter was an article in TOI which revealed that most students aren’t aware of a cell existing in their colleges and universities. Our purpose for this article is only one- to build awareness. Only when the students have the knowledge of such a cell, will they feel safe and look forward to attending college rather than being scared of it.
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