Schools Must Target Strict Policies to Curb Sexual Harassment

by April 2, 2018 0 comments

Sexual harassment is one of the serious concerns that students are facing these days at all education levels, irrespective of their age. It is, therefore, important for schools to target strict rules and policies to control this matter of concern.

Practically everyday one confronts reports on sexual harassment, suicides, acid attacks, and even rape and murders. This particular day as I peruse items of my particular interest — education, and children — I read about the suicide of a 16-year-old girl in Noida. She was said to have been harassed by two of her teachers for a couple of months. In this case — and such cases are reported rather regularly — police response was just ‘routine’.

It did not add sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POSCO) in spite of it being on record that parents had complained to the school principal a couple of months ago. It is being reported that instead of seriously examining the case, parents were threatened with the expulsion of the child as the reputation of the school must be protected at every cost. The school makes a counter allegation: None of the parents attended the last seven PTA meetings convened by the school. All this is not an uncommon approach in such cases. Children suffer in the process of education in multifarious ways, some even lose their lives.

The shocking aspect of the scenario is that cases of sexual harassment in most prestigious schools, institutions and universities are on the rise but these are invariably treated just in a ‘routine’ manner, there being no evidence of any urgency either in preventive strategy or in getting the culprit punishment in time. More often than not, the establishment stands behind the accused and not with those harassed and exploited; and tries every possible trick to suppress the matter.  Everyone, except the victim, appears keen to hush up the matter, as otherwise, it may bring a bad name to the institution.

In higher education, cases of sexual harassment are not uncommon. In addition, there is rampant political exploitation of the youth. Every positive step and an innovative measure introduced to curb the menace of gender discrimination; more often than not; becomes a victim of ideological moorings and compulsions of well-entrenched disruptive and destructive elements.

The current illustrative example is that of India’s most liberally-invested university, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). It was all along hijacked by a group of ideologically-constrained individuals who went out of the way to make it a hub of political activism of their choice. In the name of pursuing free-play of ideas, they ensured that only those who think alike could enter the fiefdom of their dominance. Now that some cracks are appearing in their well-protected citadels of power and authority, these elements are, obviously, deeply upset. This is a rare university in many ways.

One could remain a research scholar for umpteen years, pursuing a PhD for ages; enjoy the facilities and fellowship at the expense of the taxpayer. And, believe me, they do all these to better a lot of the ‘last man in the line’. No regulations applicable to other universities are acceptable. If they wish to go in an election campaign for three-four months, no questions should be asked, their peripherals, perks and fellowships just cannot be touched under any rule or regulation. Because we are JNU, we are distinct, different and distinguished.

Our only goal, for the welfare of the proletariat, is the destruction of the existing system of governance, culture and social moors. These no-attendance-no-regulation seekers are probably not aware that institutions do not survive only on past reputations, they have to consistently project dynamism to absorb the changes all-around, analyse these, envision their future implications and come out with a well-studied response for the benefit of the people and the nation.

Reference is often made to the landmark judgement of the Supreme Court delivered in 1997 in the Vishaka case. It laid down guidelines to be followed by every establishment in cases of complaints against sexual harassment at workplaces. The Sexual harassment Act of 2013 casts several obligations on the employer, the most important being to provide a safe working environment.

Essentially, the Act and the earlier guidelines were attempts to “provide for the effective enforcement of the basic human right of gender equality and guarantee against sexual harassment and abuse, more particularly against sexual harassment at workplace”. The University Grants Commission (UGC) issued guidelines to universities and other institutions to create permanent mechanisms to ensure that the SCI guidelines are effectively implemented. Every institution is obliged to constitute a committee as per the guidelines and notify it to all concerned. While the mechanism exists, its efficacy needs a thorough scrutiny. For years together, such cases remain under investigation, causing tremendous mental trauma to the victim.

Punishment, if at all awarded, is rarely commensurate with the magnitude of the crime or offence. In the recent JNU instance, one wonders why all 10 complaints of sexual harassment against a professor are lodged on the same day?  It would be interesting to watch how things finally shape up in this case. What about the delay in other past cases? The fact remains that most of the institutions have not implemented the provisions, and acted, in accordance with the true spirit of ensuring an environment that is free from even the apprehension of sexual harassment. Probably, some more steps are required to ensure that every educational institution pays greater attention to the concerns of gender equality and elimination of practices that hurt beyond acceptance in an acculturated society, and inflict irreparable damage on the psyche and personality of the victim. The universities like JNU, Banaras Hindu University, and IGNOU must become the torch-bearers in eliminating sexual harassment from their campus.

The gradual erosion of an empathetic traditional teacher-taught relationship of mutual affection and the highest level of consideration, care and respect between the two stands visibly weakened. It is often manifesting in several tragic events that are reported rather regularly from different places and stages in education. Talk to a group of teachers and remind them that they are creating the future of India, that they are blessed with the opportunity to reshape the lives of thousands of young persons, they would just look at each other’s face and would be keen to opt out of the gathering.

In the 50s and 60s, it was impossible to think of a university or college teacher conducting tuition classes or extending his services to commercial coaching institution. Today, it could even be the real-estate business and none minds that. This is the change. To bring about any reversal in the direction, the ground level reality must be acknowledged first. The rise in the credibility of prestigious institutions delivers exponential developmental outcomes.

(The writer is former Director, NCERT, and an educationist)

Writer: JS Rajput

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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