We live in a country where using the S word is stigmatized to the core and thus talks related to sex for some unfathomable reasons are dodged always. Young women and men are devoid of the worthy sex education class and thus sexual harassment in our lives has not been given due consideration that it essentially requires. Sexual harassment is prevalent in all possible places, right from educational institutions to work places.
Sexual harassment in educational institutions, based on newspaper reports, has become an everyday affair. Students are sexually harassed by peers, teachers or members of non-teaching staff. Researchers can be harassed by their guides or by any other person who holds a higher position in the hierarchy. The usual power structures and dynamics of sexual harassment usually embolden such occurrences.
Students in college campuses are vulnerable at a whole different level. It’s a primary step for the students to build their career. And kids are willing to do everything in their power to achieve the desired results. Due to which they at some point seem to forget or get confused about consent or harassment. Apart from classes, it’s a new phase for them where they are looking to start new relationships. Educational institutions are a constant influx of thousands of people with changing demographics every year. Such institutions have their own culture and environment and thus it is very difficult to curb or even initiate the talk about sexual harassment in such places.
Harassment can be anything from singing lewd songs, demanding sexual favors despite indication of disinterest in the act, stalking, unconsented voyeurism, sexual favors in exchange for work benefits to harassing and defaming a woman with her pictures or passing obscene comments. “Sexual harassment is an act of power” and these power relations make students vulnerable in university spaces.
Indian universities, under the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013, are mandated to have Internal Complaints Committee’s for the redressal of sexual harassment complaints. In 2016, the University Grants Commission mandated universities to constitute internal complaint committees and a special cell to deal with gender violence and gender sensitization. But are these mechanisms working on the ground? Is it effective? Is the balance of power heavily tilted in favor of the accused? Does the very composition of these committees make them anti-complainant? Are these spaces used for moral policing and victim shaming? And why is the survivor not entitled to an opinion?
Although, the ICC clause says that you need to have three elected students, the obscurity about student elections and its pursuance has been considered as a major reason for students’ ignorance about the committee. The situation is no different in colleges like Ramjas, Kirori Mal and Miranda though they claim to have complaints committees that enjoy credibility and have a history of fighting sexual harassment.
Recently, a third year student of Delhi University’s Bharti College has alleged harassment by a college professor over the last few months. This incident has come to light after a sexual harassment complaint was filed against a Daulat Ram College teacher. A formal letter received by the University Proctor by the student, alleged that the professor has been sending indecent messages and asked students to meet-up outside the college campus. The student further added that the professor also targeted several other girls, but none dared to speak up against him. The college principal claimed that he did not hear about any such allegation against the professor before.
In a similar case, a Political Science professor from Daulat Ram College was arrested for allegedly harassing a 17-year old student. The student accused the professor of trying to touch her inappropriately whenever he found her alone. She further claimed that the professor even threatened to fail her in internal exams after she rejected his antics.
According to data collected by the University Grants Commission between April 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017 for a first survey to size up the problem of sexual harassment on campuses, 103 women students alleged they were victimized. And most of the women don’t even register any formal complain for harassment. Reason being women don’t have the social support and economic resources to bear the after effects, which come with a registered complaint. Some of them fear losing their jobs/ research projects etc.
Sexual assault in India happens at an alarming rate of every two minutes The best way to reduce this statics is to educate the students in campuses about their rights and give them voices. The damage of sexual assault isn’t just physical, its mental. All of us need to understand that consent is ongoing. Consenting with someone to go home necessarily does not mean consent for a sexual encounter and can be renegotiated at any time. Its high time, college authorities, UGC realizes that making policies is not enough and never was. It should ensure the efficiency and functionality of the certain formulated policy