Even as the Panjab University launched a toll-free number for the registration of grievances related to sexual harassment, the university is yet to create awareness among its students about the Committee Against Sexual Harassment (CASH) policy.
The university instated the toll-free number (1800-111-656) following a circular issued by the UGC on October 25 requesting all higher educational institutions to do so. However, the university is yet to fulfill the UGC guidelines that requests “widest possible dissemination of provisions of law pertaining to sexual harassment of women at workplace”.
A senior staff member at PU, who wanted to remain anonymous, said, “There is no awareness regarding CASH. Most people have not read the Act. There are no boards and notices to spread awareness on what could be pronounced as sexual harassment and how one could register a complaint about the same.”
“The responsibility to create awareness is on the university administration and not the CASH committee. We can only request them to do so. We cannot take such actions ourselves,” said PU CASH Chairperson Professor Manvinder Kaur. According to the handbook on ‘sexual harassment at workplace’ issued by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2013, it was necessary for employers to ensure ‘awareness and orientation on the issue of sexual harassment’.
Besides creating awareness, the handbook also directed the employers to ‘create and communicate a detailed policy’ for prevention and redressal of sexual harassment. Professor Ameer Sultana, convenor of the PU CASH, said that such a policy was yet to be published by PU.
“I believe the policy has been there since 2016 under the leadership of Professor Nishtha Jaiswal, before the current committee was constituted. It was submitted to the Registrar and it is up to him and other relevant authorities to publish it.” said Professor Sultana. In response to Chandigarh Newsline’s request to access the policy document, the professor said that she did not possess a copy of it.
PU Registrar Karamjeet Singh said that he was not certain whether such a document even existed. “We just make sure that we strictly adhere to the UGC guidelines,” said Singh. He added that he would inquire about the existence of such a document and get back on Monday.
Far from knowing the details of the CASH policy, most Panjab University students remain unaware of the existence of PU CASH. “I have been here for four years, but I have never heard of such a committee. No professor has informed us about this committee or held any awareness workshops,” said Garima, a Master’s student of Biotechnology, who resides in the students’ hostel on the campus. Swapnil, a second year student of the English Literature department, said eve-teasing was common on the campus and most of the students were ignorant of any platform to seek redressal.
“In July, we launched a campaign to ensure women safety on campus. Students came together to demand the necessary reforms. But we had no clue that there was a committee we could ask help from,” said Manali, a second year student from the department of Engineering. Manali, was a part of a group of female students who led a month long campaign to ensure strict security at the university’s South campus, after several incidents of physical and verbal harassment came to light.
PUCSC President Chetan Chaudhary said, student representation in PU CASH would mitigate the gap between students and the committee. He said, “I plan to ask for the inclusion of student members or I should be allowed attend the meetings.”
A notice issued by the UGC in 2015 directed that three student representatives should be elected through transparent procedures while addressing cases involving students. Although there were CASH complaints by students, Professor Sultana said, no student representative had been a part of the committee, since its
formation in 2017.