THE STUDENTS OUTPOST
The Students outpost is a collective of students from Bangalore that seeks to address the issues and concerns raised by students in various colleges in the city. Over the last couple of months students (largely from private institutions) have come forward to be a part of this collective and have raised very substantial issues dealing with the rights and entitlements of students. As a part of our efforts to address these issues, we try to arrange seminars, panel discussions, meetings and awareness campaigns.
A much raised concern in these meetings is the difficulty involved in securing redressal of grievances related to sexual harassment in colleges. By scrutinizing the rules regarding sexual harassment in colleges, it has come to our notice that the UGC mandates the establishment of an Internal Complaints Committee for the redressal of sexual harassment. On further enquiry, we have come to understand that there is little or no implementation of these rules in the colleges in Bangalore and very limited awareness amongst the students regarding the same. It is in light of these very imminent needs from the student community that we are making this report.
The methodology of the research was survey method. Therefore, we resorted to distributing online google questionnaires to students in 7 colleges in Bangalore. The questions that were raised tested the general awareness of the students in regard to the establishment and the working of the Internal Complaints Committee. A total of 235 responses from these colleges were received. A summary of the results arrived at for each independent college is given in the document attached to this report.
The questions raised in the questionnaire were both general and specific in nature. The general questions were to merely test the awareness of the students in regard to the existence of an ICC in their campuses. These are:
The specific questions raised were to test the understanding of the students on the awareness of students on the constitution and functions of the ICC. These questions are:
How did you get to know about them?
How do you contact this body?
How are members to this body appointed?
Is there a student member or an external member on the board?
Would you be comfortable approaching them?
Were you aware of the UGC guidelines mandating that all colleges have an ICC?
The data from the responses were further segregated for independent colleges. The percentage of responses for each answer was then marked out and the data for each college analysed. The researchers have attempted to bring in data from both private and government colleges. For the students who do not follow English, a questionnaire in Kannada was translated from English. This was an attempt in order to receive responses from a diverse set of students.
THE ESTABLISHMENT AND EFFICIENCY OF THE INTERNAL COMPLAINTS COMMITTEE IN COLLEGES
As per the notification dated the 2nd May, 2016 titled the “University Grants Commission (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2015”, the responsibilities of higher educational institutions and the Internal Complaints Committee have been already laid down. Some of the much neglected provisions by these higher educational institutions and the reflections from the surveys are laid out below. All the responses were received from college students from Bangalore.
Provisions on Raising Awareness of the Internal complaints committee.
Include in the prospectus. Display prominently at conspicuous places or notice boards the penalty and consequences of sexual harassment and make all sections of the institutional community aware of the information on the redressal mechanism for complaints pertaining to sexual harassment. Include contact details of all members of the Internal Complaints Committee, complaints procedure, policy et. cetera. [ Rule 3 (h) ]
Inform employees and students of the recourse available to them if they are victims of sexual harassment. [ Rule 3(i) ]
Publicly notify the provisions against sexual harassment and ensure their wide dissemination. [ Rule 3 (b) ]
The survey results showed a very limited number of students being aware of statutory mechanisms available for the redressal of sexual harassment cases. In some cases a very large proportion of the data responses (such as 84% of students) showed that they were completely unaware of an ICC. Even in cases where they are aware of a committee in place, there is absolutely no clarity on the means to approach them. Gender sensitization programmes have never been conducted in most of these colleges.
Constitution of the Internal Complaints Committee
Three students, if the matter involves students, shall be enrolled at the undergraduate, masters’ and research scholar levels respectively. They are to be elected through transparent democratic procedure. [Rule 4(c)]
A majority of the responses received showed that the students were not aware of the requirement of a student member to the ICC. Students state that they have never been informed of any such election or selection process in the past. This shows that there exists no democratic mechanism in place to elect these students.
Having an elected member in the committee provides a sense of security for those students approaching the ICC. Students would be able to better relate to that member. A limited amount of democratization in these matters at least, would equip students to proactively participate against gender discrimination in the college spaces. A student community that is well aware of these issues reduces the possibility of further discriminating the victim of sexual harassment.
Gender Sensitization Programmes
Create awareness about what constitutes sexual harassment including hostile environment harassment and quid pro quo harassment. [Rule 3(g) ]
Organise training programmes or as the case may be, workshops for the officers, functionaries, faculty and students, as indicated in the SAKSHAM Report (Measures for Ensuring the Safety of Women and programmes for Gender Sensitization in Campuses) of the commission, to sensitise them and ensure the knowledge and awareness of the rights, entitlements and responsibilities enshrined in the act and the regulations. [Rule 3(c) ]
Orientation courses for administrators conducted in the HEIs must have a module on gender sensitization and sexual harassment issues. Regular workshops are to be conducted for all sections of the HEI community.[Rule 3.2 (7) ].
Security staff must receive Gender Sensitization training as a part of conditions of appointment. [Rule 3.2 (10) ].
Colleges in Bangalore are spaces that are increasingly averse to discussing matters relating to gender. Gender sensitization programmes are mostly unheard of in private colleges in Bangalore. A good majority of students, according to the responses, experience a sense of insecurity in approaching the committee. This is possibly due to the reason that students are put in a space where they are not comfortable talking about these issues.
The approach of the college managements in dealing with sensitive matters such as intimate partner violence, violence directed against certain vulnerable groups and violence directed against the third gender must be made known to the students. This would help students to be more comfortable with approaching the ICC in such cases.
Protecting Vulnerable Groups
The HEI’s shall decisively act against all gender based violence perpetrated against employees and students of all sexes recognizing that primarily women employees and students and some male students and students of the third Gender are vulnerable to many forms of sexual harassment and humiliation and exploitation. [Rule 3 (d)].
Curbing all forms of harassment of employees and students whether it is from those in a dominant power or hierarchical relationship within HEI’s or intimate partner violence or from peers or elements outside geographical limits of the HEI. [Rule 3 (k)].
Vulnerability can be socially compounded by region class, caste, sexual orientation, minority identity and by being differently-abled.
Gender based violence, is in many cases, directed towards individuals coming from certain vulnerable sections of the society. In order to effectively curb gender based violence both the students and the anti-harassment committees are to be made aware of the unfair power dynamics in our society. Developing a respectful and a healthy space for young adults to grow and learn is a primary responsibility of every educational institution.
The colleges are to strictly comply with the above mentioned guidelines. The consistent non-compliance of these guidelines show that there is no mechanism in place to keep these colleges in check. There are no responsible and accountable authorities for students to approach. There must exist more student participation in colleges through democratic election to ensure that students can secure their entitlements through collective bargaining. While college faculty and management may change, its only continued student efforts that help sustain their own entitlements. Student elections to the ICC is to be made mandatory as per the guidelines. There must be more student participation in student bodies to ensure and keep a check on these matters.
GENDER SENSITISATION PROGRAMMES MUST BE MANDATORILY HELD:
Gender sensitization programmes are crucial to the guidelines of the UGC. Since gender and the issues that surround it may be difficult to communicate with the student community, the UGC has an elaborated report called the SAKSHAM report that lays the groundwork for all such programmes. Violence based on gender is a serious issue faced by our society today. Engaging in academic conversation with the student community is the best way to begin to handle these issues. Colleges must engage students in such programmes. An extremely hostile and gendered classroom environment makes it difficult for the weaker sections such as women and vulnerable groups to have a good learning experience.
AWARENESS PROGRAMMES TO BE MANDATORILY HELD:
All the survey results show very limited awareness amongst the student community regarding the Internal Complaints Committee. Colleges must make students more aware of its functioning and publish such information on conspicuous places in the college. Students must be made more acquainted with its functioning and accessibility.
In order to make it more accessible the phone numbers of all individual members of the committee should be made available on the notice published on the notice boards.
Students must be made more acquainted with the members of the committee. There must be interactive sessions arranged between the members of the committee and the students such that students can be more acquainted with them.
There must be organized programmes for members of the committee in regard to issues of Gender based violence.