Can institutional safeguards prevent campus sexual harassment?  

The last few weeks saw the campus of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) witnessing massive protests by students who felt that the administration’s response to complaints of sexual harassment were inadequate.

 According to several students, this was not a one-off incident and women on campus were constantly subjected to harassment with the administration paying no heed to their complaints.

THE SAKSHAM COMMITTEE

In 2013, the UGC set up the SAKSHAM committee, a task force to review the measures for ensuring the safety of women on campuses and programmes for gender sensitisation, in the wake of the 16 December rape case. The report found that “the weakest aspect of our institutions of higher education is their lack of gender sensitivity.” It further suggested that “in the context of institutions of higher education, the nature of combating sexual harassment as an alternative civic redressal system can and must be given its fullest scope.”

ALTERNATIVE REDRESSAL

But alternative civic redressal systems in the form of Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) and the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) on campuses require administrative cooperation. The first student-led GSCASH body which was set up in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in 1999 was scrapped by the administration through a notification dated on 18 September on the basis of the UGC (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher educational institutions) Regulations 2015 that was notified in 2016. In protest, students held elections to the GSCASH and appealed in the Delhi High Court where the matter is currently pending.

In an open letter to the JNU administration, members of the SAKSHAM task force said, “We are consequently at a loss to understand why what appeared to be a well functioning body in JNU needed to be disbanded and could not seamlessly incorporate an ICC.”

Further, often, there are conflicts of interest as students may not want other students or members of their departments to know about the incident.

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