Sunday, February 10, 2013

Majority students believe girls are unsafe on MS University campus, want functional cell against sexual harassment

University campus
By Our Representative
A recent survey conducted by a group of students from the faculty of law of the prestigious MS University, Vadodara, Gujarat, 63 per cent of girl students and 69 of male students believe that girls are “not secure” on the campus. Carried out against the backdrop of up-swell of public rage against crimes of rape and sexual violence on women in India, the survey suggests that women and sensitive men across the country and Vadodara are demanding a better and human society for women and girls. It also finds out that that 24 per cent of girls and 19 per cent of boys said they have “witnessed sexual harassment on the campus.” However, they regret, “none of them have complained about it.”
Astonishingly, the survey further finds that just about eight per cent of girls and five per cent of boys are aware of the women’s grievance redressal and counseling cell in the university. None of those surveyed – 766 girls and 200 boys – knew where the cell is located. “Ninety five per cent of the girls and 92 per cent of boys believes that there should be some space created where the victim can express their grievances”, according to Sahiyar, a voluntary agency, which has issued a note based on the survey. Sahiyar adds, “They believe and are very much hopeful that setting up of such special committee will help them a lot in case of sexual harassment.”
The survey finds that 49.31 per cent of those surveyed want that a special committee against sexual harassment and crime should be set up within each faculty, 19.41 per cent say it should be in their respective departments, and another 11.98 per cent think it should be set up online. Interestingly, very few students – just about 6.04 per cent – want it should be set up in the university office. The students’ union office is even less popular, with just 5.05 per cent students favouring it. The survey was carried out in January 2013. In the aftermath of the survey, the faculty and the students requested us to share the data and insights into what majority of them think.
In a letter to university vice-chancellor Prof Yogesh Singh, registrar Prof Amit Dholakiya and chairperson of the women’s grievances rederssal and counseling cell, Prof Uma Iyer, Sahiyar said, “It is unfortunate that instead of taking positive steps to make the university free from sexual, the authorities have taken the regressive step to put further restrictions on girl students by reducing the time for hostel girls.” It adds, “The committee against sexual harassment was constituted in the MS University in 2008 after a long struggle, but unfortunately the committee is non-functional on the campus. Most students and teachers are not aware about the existence of such a committee. The name and contact of the committee members are not displayed in the faculties.”
The letter said, “A Supreme Court of India in the landmark Vishakha Judgment of 1997 not only ordered the mandatory institutionalization of committees against sexual harassment but have also clearly indicated objectives and functions of such committee. As per the guideline the role of the committee should include (a) sensitization and awareness generation; (b) crisis management and mediation, and (c) formal redressal and enquiry. We have observed that in the MS University only when a highly publicized case comes up the committee is functioning. The role of sensitization and awareness generation to prevent the incidents of harassment at the campus is absent.”
The letter regrets, “The committee constituted by the University is not representative of the stake holders. Sexual harassment reflects and is a consequence of the power relations in the workplace and in educational institutions so that women from the lower rungs in the hierarchy of academic and administrative power like lecturers, temporary teachers, non-teaching staff, PhD and research scholars, hostel students, class four employee etc are most vulnerable to sexual harassment. This fact is not considered in the constitution of the committee. Most of the members of the committee are on the top of the administrative and academic hierarchies.”
The letter adds, “In the absence of proper representation the committee will fail to generate confidence among from the most vulnerable groups. In most of the universities the complaint committees have representations from all the sections of the university. We can share with you the sexual harassment policies worked out by other universities where they have developed a way to have proper representations from various sections from their universities.” It demands “immediate steps” to include “proper representation from all the sections of the university in consultation with them to give credibility to the committee.”
Other demands include setting up the committee 50 per cent of its members should be women, NGO representation, and reconstitution of the committee in consultation with all the stake holders i.e. the permanent and temporary teachers, students both local and from the halls of residence, PhD scholars, non-teaching staff and voluntary women’s organizations working on the issue of sexual harassment. “The name, nature, functions and objectives of this committee should be widely publicized and displayed in the campus. The information must necessarily contain the contact information (address, telephone number and email id) of all the members of the committee”, the letter, signed by Dr Trupti Shah, Deepali Ghelani and Rita Choksi of the Sahiyar Stree Sangathan, says
It further demands “an adequate budgetary allocation for the functioning of the committee and the sub-committees as well as a central office space in the campus; necessary amendment of the university rule book to include sexual harassment as punishable offence which invokes disciplinary action; a circular to all existing employees regarding inclusion of sexual harassment as punishable offence in the rules of university, and an additional entry in all admission forms to all courses offered by the University and appointment letters stating that sexual harassment is an offence and subject to punishment.”

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