Amidst Protests from Students and Teachers, JNU Replaces Sexual Harassment Watchdog Body

In the new Internal Complaints Committee, five of the eight members will be nominated by the administration rather than elected.

New Delhi: The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) administration has come under fire from students, teachers and women’s groups for deciding to replace the 18-year-old Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) with an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC).

On Monday (September 18), the Executive Council of the university finalised the decision with immediate effect. Students alleged that members of the administration came to clean out the GSCASH office and were stopped. “The administration, in a shocking move of highhandedness, has imposed the ICC, disbanding GSCASH. Not just this, the CV has sent staff to take away files with sensitive case matters from the GSCASH office. This is utter dictatorialism on the part of the VC and his team, trampling upon all norms and endangering justice in critical cases of gender violations,” newly-elected JNU Students’ Union president Geeta Kumari said in a statement.

GSCASH consisted of four elected faculty members, of whom at least two were women, four elected student representatives, of whom at least two were women, an elected woman official as well as an elected woman staff member, among others. The ICC, however, will include only three student representatives, three faculty members and two non-teaching staff members. Except the students, all members will be nominated.

The university administration has said that the decision to replace the GSCASH with the ICC is in order to be in line with UGC regulations from 2013, as well as the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act. “Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2013) and the University Grants Commission (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2015, as notified by MHRD on May 2, 2016, provide for constitution of an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) replacing the existing mechanism of GSCASH. The UGC Regulations, 2015 are mandatory for all Higher Educational Institutions (HEI),” registrar Pramod Kumar said in a notice. He added that GSCASH elections should not be scheduled this year.

The JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA), however, has argued that GSCASH is also compliant with the UGC guidelines – and that a simple change in its name would be enough to fit the GSCASH in to the mould recommended by the UGC. “The only amendment that should have been recommended is a rechristening of GSCASH as the GSCASH-ICC, if this pedantic obsession with reproducing the nomenclature used in the UGC-SHW Regulations has to be humoured,” JNUTA said in a statement. GSCASH, the teachers’ association added, was already going above and beyond what the UGC mandated: “It is important to understand that all UGC Regulations specify a minimum standard, and that there is no bar in doing more than what they specify. That is exactly what the JNU GSCASH composition does, in keeping with the size of the university and the primary concern of ensuring the autonomy of GSCASH. … In JNUTA’s understanding, which is based both on 18 years of experience in being a member of GSCASH and thorough acquaintance with the law, there is no legal reason for the size or composition of the GSCASH to be changed.”

The committee that recommended that the GSCASH be replaced with the ICC, headed by JNU rector S.C. Garkoti, also found itself marred with controversy. K.B. Usha, a JNUTA member who was in the committee, said that her recommendations were ignored, leading her to resign from the committee. Usha was the only member of the committee to have been a part of GSCASH in the past. She raised her objections to the design of the ICC several times, Telegraph reported, saying that senior varsity officials like the VC could not be members and sexual harassment needs to be properly defined, but they were all ignored and not placed on the record, she has alleged.

Women’s groups including the All India Democratic Women’s Association, All India Progressive Women’s Association, Anhad, Guild of Service, Joint Women’s Programme and National Federation of Indian Women wrote to the JNU vice chancellor on September 16, highlighting their concerns regarding the “dilution” of GSCASH:

We, the undersigned women’s organisations express strong concern at the reports which indicate that the University administration is making serious and unjustified attempts to dilute and destroy the autonomy of the Gender Sensitization Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) in the Jawaharlal Nehru University. It would like to remind the University administration that the GSCASH has been a model institution and has served as an example to similar institutions in several other universities since its inception in 1999. In this sense it may be noted that the autonomous functioning of the GSCASH has been exemplary in ensuring that the victims of sexual harassment get justice.

However it is regrettable, that in the recent past, the JNU administration has made concerted attempts to erode the independent functioning of GSCASH and violate its norms and rules. This fact is particularly alarming because the administration has approached the Executive Council and tried to get some cases of sexual harassment removed against persons in positions of authority. Such direct interference has always been resisted by the teachers and students of the University. In the light of such a history of interference the concerted attempt of the University to replace the election of members with the ‘nomination’ of members is a direct attack on the autonomy of the Institution and goes against the spirit of natural justice for victims of sexual harassment.