All colleges will have to reconstitute their anti-sexual harassment panels to include students as members, while principals or department heads will be excluded, states the Maharashtra women commission, which is currently holding awareness workshops for colleges, schools and even corporate offices. This might ensure vested interests do not interfere with probes into such complaints and make students feel comfortable in reporting instances of harassment, said experts.
Under the University Grants Commission’s notification on May 2, 2016, titled prevention, prohibition and redressal of sexual harassment of women employees and students in higher educational institutions, colleges have to set up internal complaints committees (or anti-sexual harassment panels).
Three of the nine members of these panels must be students — boys and girls — said Vijaya Rahatkar, women’s commission chief. “Previously, colleges were required to have only five members on the panel, but now they will have to include students,” said Rahatkar.
This panel has statutory powers under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, to summon any person, who is the complainant, victim or witness, examine them and record their statements. “Unfortunately, many of the colleges have not set up such panels or are unaware about their working pattern,” said Rahatkar.
Adding that the panel has a big role to play in sexual harassment cases, Rahatkar said, “When the complaint is filed in court, the panel’s report is one of the first things that is asked to be produced.”
To ensure that colleges form the panels, the women’s commission has launched a PUSH (People United against Sexual Harassment) initiative to train employees on the new laws and regulations protecting employees and students. It covered more than 800 colleges under the University of Mumbai and 4, 635 institutes across the state.
College principals are unhappy that principals, vice-principals and even heads of departments have been excluded. “I do not understand why we cannot be part of the panel, staff members informed me that only associate professors can be appointed to it,” said Ashok Wadia, principal of Jai Hind College, Churchgate, whose employees attended the training sessions.
Experts said the move might help with fair investigations into the complaints. “It will help reduce the influences on the probes and students, too, will be more forthcoming,” said Reeta Sonawat, professor and head of the department of human resource development, SNDT Women’s University.