UGC has notified Regulations relating to Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of women employees and students in Higher Educational Institutions, which shall apply to Higher Educational Institutes in India. It has also made its intentions clear that an Institute not following the Regulations will face strict action that could include withdrawal of grants or even de-recognition.
The Regulations defines sexual harassment to include all nature of verbal, physical or non-verbal conduct with sexual undertones intending to create a hostile and intimidating environment for the student on campus. It also enlarged the meaning of student to include a prospective student and student studying in other Institution as a student of an Institute, where any incident of sexual harassment takes place against such student. It also tried to protect the student from third party or outsiders indulging in such act at the campus.
The word “campus” has been given very wide meaning to include the Institution and its related institutional facilities and also includes extended campus and covers transportation facilities, field trips, internships, study tours, excursions, places used for camps , festivals and sports meets. It also further prescribes the procedure to file a complaint and the punishments to be awarded in case of conviction.
The Institutions have been directed to constitute Internal Complaints Committee with an inbuilt mechanism for gender sensitization against sexual harassment. It mandates that at least one-half of the total members of the ICC shall be women and Persons in senior administrative positions, such as Vice- Chancellor, Pro Vice-Chancellors, Rectors, Registrar, Deans, Heads of Departments, etc., shall not be members of ICCs in order to ensure autonomy of their functioning. The Inquiry has to be completed within 90 days and the Institution has to take effective action within 30 days after the receipt of recommendation.
According to the Regulations, in exceptional cases, even, relatives, friends, colleagues of the victim can also lodge a complaint on his/her behalf if the person is unable to do so on account of physical or mental incapacity or death.
It has prescribed a full charter for the Institutes expecting them to undertake several activities to raise awareness regarding the issue. It expects the Institute to notify the provisions against sexual harassment and organise training programmes to sensitize and ensure knowledge and awareness of the rights, entitlements and responsibilities under these regulations. The Institute is also expected to act decisively against all gender based violence against students. Most importantly the Institute will now have to include in its prospectus and display prominently at conspicuous places or Notice Boards the penalty and consequences of sexual harassment mechanism put in place for redressal of complaints.
As an Interim measure, an Institution can transfer the complainant or the respondent to minimise the risks involved in contact or interaction and restrain the respondent from reporting on or evaluating the work or performance or tests or examinations of the complainant. In appropriate cases, the respondents can be denied entry into the campus as well.
Upon conviction the Institute may withhold privileges of the student such as access to the library, auditoria, halls of residence, transportation, scholarships, allowances, and identity card; suspension or restriction from entry into the campus for a specific period; expel and strike off name from the rolls of the institution, including denial of readmission, if the offence so warrants. The Institute may also award reformative punishments like mandatory counselling and community service. The aggrieved person is entitled to the payment of compensation.
If however a complaint is found to be false or malicious complaints then the Complainant is liable to be penalized to ensure that the provisions for the protection of employees and students from sexual harassment do not get misused.
The Institute contravening or failing to comply with the obligations and duties laid out in the Regulations may face withdrawal of declaration of fitness to receive grants, removal of name of the university or college from the list maintained by the Commission; withholding any grant allocated to the institution. The Commission may also inform the general public that the institution does not provide for a zero tolerance policy against sexual harassment and may recommend for withdrawal of affiliation, withdrawal of declaration as an institution deemed to be university or University.
Good ! A welcome step ! Should have been done earlier in 2013 itself when the principal act was passed.
Distinctively, the Regulation is gender neutral and it recognises that a male student or for that matter a student of third gender can also be a victim of sexual harassment. There has been growing demand to law relating to domestic violence, dowry make gender-neutral. Infact it is a good practice to make gender-neutral law, which propagates more equality, instead of treating a particular class as victim and a particular class as offender.
Read the UGC Regulations