The conversation with Vinita Chandra of Ramjas College, Delhi was conducted by Rochelle Pinto to address the fact that the process of filing a complaint against sexual harassment in a university and the details of the law were not widely known, adding uncertainty to what is likely to be a difficult decision. Ramjas College had sustained a working unity among a group of teachers that enabled the functioning of a committee to deal with sexual harassment. The following is an account of what an institution can become if about four or five people withstand the pressures on organizations that protects the rights of its members. Ramjas is not the only college to have a committee that enjoys credibility, but it belongs to a small minority of institutions that have sustained the process. The majority of educational institutions in the country have a different story.
Questions to Vinita Chandra, Ramjas College, Delhi University
How do i file a complaint about harassment?
You write your complaint, sign it, put a date on it, and give it to the chairperson of the sh (sexual harassment) committee. They HAVE to take cognisance of it. According to the new law, the complaint has to be filed within three months of the incident.
How do I find out who the chairperson is?
As per the Gazette of India adopted by the UGC the information should be up on the website.
If not, the head of the institution can be punished with a fine of up to Rs. 50,000.
So does each college have a committee? Or a chairperson?
By law they should, but many probably don’t.
They scramble to put one together when a case comes up. But they can be reported for not having one.
What if I think the chairperson is biased? What is the next step in the harassment complaint?
The Chairperson has to call meeting to see if there is a prima facie case once she has received a complaint. The committee consists of 3 faculty, 3 students, 2 non-teaching staff and one member from a non-govt. organisation known for work in this area. If she doesn’t take up the case, she can be reported to the police.
Recently I wanted to file a complaint against the head of department, but when I saw who the chairperson of the committee was, I thought I would be trapped between her and the head of department.
The chairperson cannot decide on any case in individual capacity. She has to call a committee
Committee has faculty, students, outside person.
If they refuse you can go to the police and report her under the new law.
So will the first meeting be with the harasser and the chair? and the next meeting with the committee?
No, you hand in complaint, she has to call meeting of Committee first. The new law also has a provision for conciliation if the aggrieved woman wants, as long as it is not monetary.
Does she choose the committee?
In the present ordinance employer chooses the committee. The earlier ordinance had an elected committee autonomous of authority.
Ha ha. See?
That’s why we need to fight it – Fight to bring back earlier ordinance – the earlier ordinance was completely autonomous of authority.
But in Ramjas principal let chairperson decide on the committee, and the chairperson of the current committee is the same person who was elected under the earlier ordinance. Kirori Mal College also has good people
Who changes ordinances?
The University changes it. We filed a Public Interest Litigation case. Court turned it down. JNU is fighting for GSCASH – Gender Sensitisation Committee
Are you on a Sexual Harassment committee?
I used to be when it was democratically elected, but don’t want to under the new law when it is nominated by employer.
Is it voluntary? Who appoints the people on the committee?
It is voluntary. Earlier it was elected and one nominated, but now the principal picks all
How long have you been on it?
I’ve done two terms earlier. A term is two years
How many cases do you get each year? Does anyone keep count?
We have not got any since ordinance changed in 2016, but used to get plenty before that, mostly inter student cases largely because we did class to class campaigns to raise awareness about what constitutes sh and the ordinance that punishes it.
The only teacher case we got was…
One non teaching staff
So does anyone keep official count of how many cases you get each year?
We had to send data to apex committee at end of year earlier. New ordinance asks for data to be collected and given to Principal. Government can ask for data anytime. Officer can come to any workplace and demand all documents.
So how are disputes resolved?
If we get a written complaint that is addressed to the chairperson then the committee meets, sees if there is a prima facie case, conducts enquiry and takes a decision.
In Ramjas, one colleague and I who are usually the first teachers students and other teachers and non teaching staff come to in case of sexual harassment (because we conduct gender sensitisation interactive sessions pretty much all year round) had an option in which students sat across the table with each other in a safe space provided by both of us and talked face to face to resolve disputes.
Worked really well in most cases
What if it’s a complaint against the teacher and the student is scared of consequences?
For students who were uncomfortable with teachers in the class as a whole – there were 3 cases- but didn’t want to complain, one of us would take the teacher aside and give him/her a stern talk. Almost always fixed it.
[Particular college] had case against — teacher by American Student who approached me, I gave her a copy of Ordinance XV-D and she filed a complaint, case had enquiry, teacher punished
That was a full fledged sh(sexual harassment) case
But when students are scared then what?
The first step is to instil confidence in them that they should file complaint, that justice will be done, and that we will be there to support them through it. And then to make sure that justice is done. It has worked every time. But it takes a lot of work.
Ok, so you’ve taken teachers aside and spoken to them.
In cases that are not serious – like general comments to the whole class. So have other colleagues. But if it is targeting an individual and sexually harassing them then that teacher has to be brought to book through the committee.
We always tell students who are sexually harassed by teachers that actually they have all the power and that the harasser is powerless if they complain.
How long did each case take to resolve – a broad estimate?
Cases between students get resolved quite quickly if they are not serious, often in two meetings, which would be roughly 2-3 weeks. There was one case that was quite serious – of threatening violence. That took about 6 months.
The famous Vice Principal case has taken 6 years, but he was suspended from day one.
Another non-teaching staff case, which was very complicated also took quite a while. But committee has to file report on status of case, so it cannot just be left lingering without action.
What are the kinds of punishments that a committee can prescribe, and who is responsible for executing them?
Punishments range from written apology to rustication of student or dismissal of faculty. In case of a case concerning a student the principal has to implement it, in case of faculty, the Governing Body has to implement. Ordinance says they SHALL implement so it is compulsory.
Is it possible that I take up an issue with the committee but the police also take it up if it is reported to them, and so there are two processes?
Yes, police case and sexual harassment case in college can go side by side. Sexual harassment policy does not require evidence beyond reasonable doubt in order to punish as police case does.
Supposing there is no sexual harassment committee in my institution. Whom should I approach to start one?
The Principal or HOD. If he/she refuses you can report them to the govt or police and they can lose their license.
You keep mentioning the old ordinance. Did it allow people to file cases much after the incident?
There was no time limit. In the (faculty) case some cases were more than a year old.
Any idea why it was changed, who changed it?
The 2013 law after the Jyoti Singh rape case was sent to all workplaces to be implemented. JNU and DU could have formulated their ordinances within the existing law, but they chose the option of overthrowing the earlier ones that were created specifically for the university and adopt this one, which institutions were allowed to do.
Both GScash (JNU) and XV d ((Policy on Sexual Harassment- University of Delhi) were threats to the authorities because it was specifically laid down that they should be independent of authority.
DU took the first chance possible to throw it out because the new law says the committee should be chosen by the employer.
What if there is a rape on campus. Is there any sexual crime that is beyond the purview of the sh committee? where you’re supposed to go directly to the police?
Under the new law sexual molestation has to be reported to the police by the committee.
Oh. what if students come to you expressly because they don’t want it reaching the police?
you mean under the earlier law it didn’t have to be reported?
Yes, that is the problem with the new law. It becomes incumbent on the committee members to report to police.
No, under the old ordinance it was not incumbent to go to police.
And all of this was after the Jyoti Singh case
Yes. That is when the 2013 law came in.
Guess this is how it always plays out when the state comes in. Not that I’m saying it shouldn’t take responsibility
But this is their response to any problem. Increase policing and strengthen authority
No, even with the state coming in, the university still had the space to mould the ordinance to its own requirements within the ambit of the law. But university authorities did not allow that to happen.
I see… From time to time you’ve mentioned that we can go to the police if the institution has not set up a committee. I recall during a protest by teachers and students outside the college of commerce, women protesters said that the police molested them. I suppose when that happens it’s the end of the road – if beyond the employer you can appeal to the police, an incident like this takes away that option?
Would that be specifically SH? That is out and out assault by the state.
But in the Ramjas incident when girls were openly threatened with rape (by other students) the police watched. That is more law and order – although sh case could be brought against the men.
OK. So if those threatening rape were from another university or organisation, you’re saying they could still file with the committee in their own institution?
Yes. As long as one party is from the univ the case comes under sh ordinance.
When did you start holding gender sensitisation workshops?
Some of us faculty in Ramjas formed a gender forum in 2000 and started gender sensitisation programs with students. When Ordinance XV-D came in in 2004 it gave us the legitimacy to go into classes and talk to all students. (Policy on Sexual Harassment- Ordinance XV (D): Prohibition of and Punishment for Sexual Harassment, University of Delhi 2004)
The reason Ramjas had such a high number of cases is because of the awareness of what constitutes sh, and that there is a redressal mechanism.
What did you do in the programmes
A lot of things. Calling outside people to talk, movies, interactive sessions, talks on sexuality, sexual orientation, photo exhibitions.
Previous principal used to give handout, which we had framed to every incoming student during orientation.
Were there questions about how sexual harassment is defined or recognised?
Both ordinances have detailed definition of sh.
Yes, but am wondering if people still need it spelled out – where they’re accustomed to harassment passing as showing interest in someone
Yes, people do need it spelled out. Not just young students but faculty as well. This is the only country in the world that calls sh Eve teasing!! With students we play out different scenarios to help them understand it. In a class I had recently a boy asked if looking at girls is sh. They all yelled it is! So he said he does it in a way that girls don’t know. They all yelled back we always know! He looked shocked and asked does that mean I’m a sexual harasser??
What about faculty – is it that they don’t recognize what sh is or they don’t want that bit of power taken away from them – the free pass
A bit of both. I had faculty telling me that my laughing loudly in the staff room was not appreciated. I don’t think he even dreamt that that is sh.
Our biggest victory has been that after 15 years of asking for a gender sensitisation program for faculty and being turned down every time, we finally had Kamla Bhasin come to the staff room and give us a talk.
Women came up to me to say that they had not realised until now that they are victims of patriarchy.
Why were you turned down
Patriarchal Privilege. We were told they are teachers and they don’t need to be taught!
They said who were we to tell them how to behave. That god had created men and women unequal and if we want justice we should go to him! And those who consistently opposed us boycotted the talk
Thought of them walking into a classroom is frightening
Absolutely! We had a case of a teacher telling 2 girls walking into class with their hair open that they were raising the testosterone level of the boys! These are stories you hear from every college.
Yes that more or less is how the university runs
Many teachers don’t like us talking to students about sh because they say we are putting ideas into their heads!
God forbid that should happen in a university
Both ordinances say that there should be sensitisation of faculty but nobody ever does it
No everyone’s more into aiding and abetting… Or keeping quiet
In the US all new faculty have to go through rigorous orientation of sh
Do you think students also encounter completely different moral codes when they enter university?
Of course they do! For the first time they are totally free to explore. I usually start by saying this is the time for them to explore relationships, sexuality, etc and that this is not a moral talk about abstinence. Sh is all about consent
Of course they love that! This year we have a lot of men coming to gender forum sessions and focusing on consent
Am surprised to hear it. Recently that has emerged as an issue that women are posing to themselves. What are the stages of consent, resignation, conceding to something, feeling like you owe it to someone, how far in can you say no…
Much more important for men to ask those questions
And for women to be aware of how to say no. My latest strategy is not to ask how many women are victims of sh, in which case the boys switch off, but to ask how many men are sexual harassers
And do you get answers?
So they admit to being harassers
Yes. Many of them. And then they start looking out for harassers themselves.
What kind of things do they admit to?
One boy came to the last meeting and said that until now he thought he was being bullied but he now realised he was being sexually harassed. The idea of not knowing if they had consent or not is something several have come up with – Staring – and participating in the rape culture through jokes that demean women etc.
But they all put the number of men harassing women very high
I forget the name of the person who has begun to foreground the passive language we use –
Jonathan Kratz. That’s where I got the idea.
Have you had cases of harassment come up between queer couples or involving queer relations
Harassment of queer men by other men
But so far none in queer cases
And not just queer men but men who don’t look masculine enough
So the whole question of masculinity and how toxic it is comes up
Does normative femininity come up?
All the time! Women are much more aware of these issues
But even they are surprised by how much of it they have internalized
I ask also because there’s a strand of criticism that holds women responsible for consumerism and objectifying themselves.
We had someone who suggested that in a talk. The women were up in arms and said they had their own agency and dressed for themselves and not the boys
I know it’s not that simple, but they do engage with this issue. Awareness is the first step. And ongoing discussions. That is why for those of who teach specially, there is never ending work to be done
Yes but glad to know they weren’t guilt tripped into accepting it. There is usually no case of harassment that did not intersect with other political identities
It still does. But younger women now have the vocabulary that older feminists have given them
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