Social stigma, students’ worry of studies being affected, among reasons for such cases being under-reported
The issue of sexual harassment at work places is not new and the stigma surrounding such cases is still widespread. This might be one of the reasons why the Women’s Development Cell (WDC) of University of Mumbai has received only 119 complaints since its inception in 2006.
Senior officials highlighted how maximum complaints come from teachers, followed by students and of late, some class IV employees too have written to WDC as they have been harassed by their seniors or institute management.
Recently, the University Grants Commission (UGC) sought information on the number of sexual harassment cases registered, as well as the action taken in such cases by every university. The aim, stated the UGC circular, was to ensure the functioning of the WDCs as well as to request them to spread more awareness about zero tolerance towards sexual harassment.
“WDC was initiated keeping in mind the Vishakha judgment that laid down clear rules for dealing with cases of sexual harassment at work places and college campuses. In the beginning our job included gender sensitisation and at the same time, we also started looking into complaints from women and female students,” said Kranti Jejurkar, chairperson of WDC.
She added how as many as 14 cases were registered with the cell in the first year itself, but basic inquiry showed most of the complaints were false. “We had to explain to the complainants what constitutes harassment and we also made it clear that false complaints will not be entertained,” she added. This move brought down the figure in 2007-08 to two complaints.
The Vishakha judgment of 1997 laid down clear rules for dealing with instances of sexual harassment at work places. In 2001, the UGC had made it compulsory for all universities to have a cell that particularly looks at curbing sexual harassment, and a separate cell to cater to complaints of ragging at university and college campuses.
“Most of the complaints that students have made are about being harassed in class or during practical sessions, as well as in hostels, but maximum complaints come from NSS camps. Similarly, many complaints also come from female professors, but many times they also take back their complaint under pressure,” added Jejurkar.
“Many students don’t report such harassment because they feel the college may interfere in their marks,” said Jejurkar. In 2011, a 17-year-old student of a Goregaon college had complained against her teacher for sending her lewd texts. The college had taken immediate action and an FIR was registered; even the WDC took cognizance of the matter.
However, within two days of his arrest, the professor got bail and the university refused to take the matter more seriously because the student was from junior college. Degree colleges are affiliated to the university, junior colleges are affiliated to the state board.
“We were told by authorities that we can only interfere in matters that take place in degree colleges, because that’s all the authority university has. I have written to the state to include junior colleges under the vice-chancellor directives that curb sexual harassment on campus, but there’s been no reply,” added a senior professor.
Institutes support victims
While many students and female teachers have had a tough time in seeking help from the college authorities in pursuing matters against fellow students or professors, some institutes are supporting the victims. In March 2013, some BCom students of St Andrew’s College in Bandra had complained against a senior professor for harassing them during the viva voce.
The professor, who was about to retire, was suspended by the institute, due to which his pension was stopped. “The professor took this matter to the school tribunal and till date the case is pending. We stand by our students and will continue the fight,” said Marie Fernandes, principal of St Andrew’s College in Bandra.
WDC has already submitted a consolidated data sheet to the UGC with a total of 10 cases that were registered between April 2014 and March 2015. Keeping in mind the need for more awareness about this issue in campuses across Mumbai region, members of WDC regularly conduct workshops for professors and students.
Action taken against the ‘accused’
>> In case of students, WDC has given verbal warnings to many, and in one particular case, the student was not allowed to appear for his exams for a year.
>> In case of teaching and non-teaching staff, the action taken has ranged from verbal warnings, to registration of FIRs, ban on increments for five years, transfer as well as termination of services.