Guide to tackling Sexual Harassment at Higher Education Institutions
Last week, many news agencies carried reports on Punjab University’s decision to expel a PhD woman student who had accused the son of Dean Students Welfare (DSW-Women) Neena Caplash of sexual harassment.
Punjab University Committee Against Sexual Harassment (PUCASH) had rejected the 17-year-old’s complaint on the grounds of it being “false and malicious”. The official judgement of the committee neither makes any mention of the accused, nor does it give the detailed reason why she was expelled. To make the waters murkier, the Vice-Chancellor declined to make a comment when asked what rules the student was suspended.
Complaint of the student dates to January 7 of this year when the woman, riding a two-wheeler, was allegedly followed by the DSW’s son who was driving a car. The woman alleged that he was constantly following her and even attempt to molest and sexually harass by passing lewd comments. The DSW’s son is not a part of the university in any capacity. When the student sought an inquiry, the V-C forwarded the case to the PUCASH. She also filed an FIR against the official and her son. However, the SHO of the police station where the complaint was made said that they had not found enough evidence to proceed with the sexual harassment charges.
It must be highlighted that the case should have never been forwarded to the PUCASH. They have no jurisdiction here since the DSW’s son is not a part of the University
The woman is currently pursuing a bar against her expulsion in the High Court, and has also approached the National Commission for Women.
The above-mentioned case is not an isolated case. In 2015, the then HRD Minister Smriti Irani released data on 75 sexual harassment cases in HEIs between April 2014 and March 2015. These figures are from a report received by the UGC from 84 universities about cases of sexual harassment against women lecturers, professor and research scholars. This data is unable to lead to a solid conclusion since nearly 182 Universities failed to provide any data for the research. However, news agencies regularly carry reports of Sexual Harassment cases in Indian Universities.
25 cases were reported from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) 2013-2014. This was the highest among 104 higher education institutions from where such matters were reported. In 2014-2015, the UGC received reports of 295 cases of sexual harassment in various institutions of higher learning.
Keeping in mind how rampant these incidents are, every student pursuing higher studies must know the procedures against Sexual Harassment in their institutions.
What does the law say about Sexual Harassment at Higher Education Institutions?
Sexual Harassment is prohibited in Higher Education Institutions (HIEs) of India by the University Grants Commission UGC (Prevention, prohibition and redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2015. The act prohibits the sexual harassment of women in not only employer-employee relations, but also student-student and student-employee relations.
Under the Act, who am I protected from?
If you are a student or employee (Male, Female or Third Gender) of a Higher Education Institute (University) affiliated with the UGC, you are protected against sexual harassment by a student, employee or visitor of the university, and your university is mandated to follow the guidelines under the act.
Where does the act apply?
According to the norms of the act applied to both the campus of the university, as well the extended campus. The act defines the term ‘Campus’ as a location or a piece of land on which a college and its related institutional facilities like library, laboratories, lecture halls, residence halls, hostels, toilets, dining halls, stadiums, parking area, canteens, parks, and bank counters are situated. The law applies to the extended campus as well. It brings within its scope:
- Places visited as a student
- Transportation provided for commuting to and from the institution
- Locations outside the institutions on field trips
- Study Tours
- Short-Term Placements
- Places used for Camps
- Cultural Festivals, Sports Meets where a person is participating in the capacity of a student or college staff.
What is your University mandated to do?
The law mandates every HEI to have an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), headed by a woman, to deal with complaints of sexual harassment. This panel must have
- Two members each from a teaching as well as non-teaching section (preferable committed to the cause of women).
- Three students who will be elected through transparent democratic procedure.
- A member from NGOs.
The Internal Complaints Committee is required to act decisively and undertake an investigation. It must then deliver a judgement if it convicts an individual.
The HEI is also given the responsibility of
- Organising training programmes and workshops for the officers, functionaries, faculty and students for Gender Sensitization, to sensitize them and ensure knowledge and awareness of their rights, entitlements and responsibilities under the Act.
- Commit to creating its campus free from discrimination, harassment and sexual assaults at all levels.
- Include in its prospectus and display prominently in conspicuous places or Notice Boards the penalty and consequences of sexual harassment and make all section of the institutional community aware of the information of the mechanism out in place for redressal of complaints pertaining to sexual harassment.
- Include in its prospectus and display prominently the contact details of members of the Internal Complaint Committee and complaints procedure.
What should I do if I have been sexually harassed?
If you have been sexually harassed, you are required to submit a written complaint to the Internal Complaints Committee within three months from the date of the incident, and in case of a series of incidents within, within a period of three months from the date of the last incident.
The act even allows your friends, parents, relatives, colleagues, co-students, psychologist or for that matter any third-party to file a complaint if you are unable to do so on account of physical or mental incapacity or death.
What is the punishment for an act of Sexual Harassment?
If a student is convicted under the act he may with punished with either of
- Withholding privileges of the student such as access to University facilities such as the library, auditorium, halls of residence, transportation, scholarships, allowances, and identity card.
- Suspension for a specific period.
- Expulsion and striking off name from the rolls of the institution
- Reformative punishments like mandatory counselling and/or performance of community services.
What happens in case of Non-Compliance by University/College?
In case of non-compliance, the UGC may withdraw a HIEs declaration of fitness to receive grants, thereby declaring the institution ineligible for consideration for any assistance under any of the general or special assistance programs of UGC.
In case of a college, the UGC may recommend the affiliating university to withdraw its affiliation.
Author: This post has been submitted by Karan Arora, as part of his assignment with Ungender Insights. Karan Arora is currently a student of Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat.