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How to file sexual harassment complaints in colleges?

GenderAnd: Your rights under the 2015 UGC regulation that mandates an Internal Complaints Committee in colleges/universities.

Written by Kainat Sarfaraz |
Updated: January 16, 2018 2:24:53 pm

What constitutes sexual harassment?

The definition of sexual harassment in the law includes many actions that are often brushed off as harmless or trivial. If there is an unwanted conduct with sexual undertones, it can be classified as sexual harassment. Any unwelcome physical/verbal/non-verbal conduct of sexual nature, demands/requests of sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, physical contact/advances or showing pornography is considered as sexual harassment.

Here’s an extract from the official circular which defines “sexual harassment”.

What do I do if I have been sexually harassed?

You can file a complaint with the college complaints committee if the matter pertains  to your college/university. You can also approach the police.

What if the act involves a University official or student but took place outside the campus?

If the act (of sexual harassment) takes place outside during a college/university event, or any other place where a person is participating in the capacity of an employee or student, it is covered by the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC).

Is there a complaints committee in colleges to handle sexual harassment complaints?

The 2015 UGC regulations state that Indian colleges and universities need to have an Internal Complaints Committee that will conduct inquiries into sexual harassment complaints from students, faculty and non-teaching staff. The committee is also required to provide assistance to complainants if they want to file a complaint with the police.

Also Read | Are sexual harassment committees failing our college campuses?

How do I file a sexual harassment complaint?

One can approach the ICC chairperson or any of the committee members who could direct you to the chairperson. The names and contact of  ICC members should be displayed prominently on the college website and on campus. If the names aren’t public, the institute can be penalised.

If the complainant decides to approach the principal or any faculty member, they must direct the case to the ICC. All sexual harassment complaints on campus are required to be handled only by the ICC. There cannot be two college committees while dealing with sexual harassment complaints.

Is there a timeframe under which the complaint should be made?

The law mandates that a complaint should be made within three months of the incident or three months within the last incident in a series of incidents. The time limit can be extended by another three months if the committee is satisfied that circumstances prevented the person from filing a complaint.

What if the chairperson doesn’t register my complaint?

The chairperson can be reported to the UGC as the law mandates for registering of complaints.

What if there are no complaint committees or if they violate the guidelines?

A higher educational institute (college and university) which does not have a functional ICC, or repeatedly fails to comply with the guidelines issued in the 2015 UGC regulations, can be reported to the UGC. A range of actions can be taken against them, including withholding grants, declaring it ineligible for assistance programmes and declaring to the public that the said institution does not have a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment.

Who all are part of the complaints committee?

The ICC should have a Presiding Officer (chairperson), who should be a female faculty member  employed at the senior-most level. The other members include two faculty members, two non-teaching employees and a representative from an NGO working for the rights of women or a similar field. All these members will be nominated by an executive authority i.e. the Principal or Vice-Chancellor. Three elected student representatives are part of the committee but will be present only in cases involving students.

How does the ICC function?

Upon receiving a complaint, the ICC is required to send a copy to the respondent within seven days. The latter is required to file their reply along with details on witnesses within 10 days. The entire inquiry process has to be completed within a period of 90 days from the receipt of the complaint.The committee should ensure the complainant is not discriminated against or victimised. An inquiry report with observations and recommendations, if any, should be sent to the executive authority and both the parties within 10 days of the completion of inquiry.

Unless an appeal is filed by either of the sides involved in the case, the executive authority is required to act on the basis of the inquiry report and take necessary action within 30 days.

A conciliation process can also be facilitated via the ICC to obtain a settlement between the two parties. The settlement cannot be monetary. The 2015 regulation clearly states that conflict resolution “to the full satisfaction of the aggrieved party, wherever possible, is preferred to punitive intervention”. Simply put, the regulation gives weightage to settlement over punishment.

Is there an interim redressal mechanism in place for the period when the inquiry is still on?

Yes. The ICC can recommend a transfer of the complainant/respondent to different departments to mitigate the situation. In case a student files a complaint against a teacher, the accused can be restrained from evaluating work/tests/examination papers of the complainant. If the committee establishes “a direct threat”,  the accused can be barred from entering the campus. In order to ensure safety and privacy of the complainant, the ICC members should not divulge the identity of the victim or the nature of the complaint.

Can both sides bring witnesses and produce evidence?

Yes, both sides can bring witness and produce evidence. The inquiry committee will ask for complainant to testify and provide any evidence available such as phone call logs, texts etc. But because sexual harassment usually takes place without witnesses present, it does not have to be proved beyond doubt to be able to charge the perpetrator.

What does punishment for the guilty entail?

For students, sexual harassment is supposed to be treated as violation of disciplinary rules. There is a  list of punishments they can be subjected to including rustication, expulsion or suspension. Other punishments include mandatory community service or withholding certain privileges such as scholarships or access to library. For employees, it is treated as misconduct and appropriate action, including, but not limited to, dismissal of the employee. The higher education institution is also responsible for booking and initiating proceedings as required by law against those guilty of sexual harassment.

Will there be any action against the complainant?  

There is no such provision. However, according to Section 11 of the 2015 UGC regulations, action will be taken against those who file “frivolous complaints.” If the ICC concludes that the allegations were false, with a malicious intent and were made knowing that they were untrue, the complainant can be punished. Not providing adequate proof does not come under this category since “malicious intent” of the complainant shall not be established without an inquiry.

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