It is mandatory for all universities in India to have an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to deal with sexual harassment, according to University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines. Earlier called Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH), these committees are supposed to deal with complaints of sexual harassment inside the university, and are supposed to have both staff and students as members.
But do universities in Telangana have such committees? And if they do, are students aware of their existence, and are they confident of approaching them for redressal?
TNM contacted several universities in the state to find out. And long story short, barring a few universities like University of Hyderabad and Maulana Azad Urdu University (MANUU), most others do not have an ICC.
Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University Hyderabad (JNTUH): The university does not have an Internal Complaints Committee. The officials claim that they have a grievance cell however to deal with any complaints of harassment – but add that they have had ‘no complaints’ so far. However, students do not seem to be aware that a grievance cell exists. “Nobody knows about such a grievance cell, particularly against sexual harassment. When someone raises a complaint they (institution) constitute a committee and take action,” a student told TNM.
JNTU Hyderabad’s counterpart JNTU Kakinada on the other hand has a seven-member committee including a covenor. Though the body doesn’t have student representatives, it does have a committee against sexual harassment.
Maulana Azad Urdu University (MANUU): The university has a five-member ICC, whose chairperson is a woman. The students are aware of the committee – however, the ICC does not have any student members as mandated by the UGC.
Osmania University: Osmania does not have an ICC. However, university officials say they have a ‘women’s cell’ to look at complaints of sexual harassment.
Satavahana University: The university does not have an ICC – but it recently has constituted a SC, BC and women's cell after much criticism from the teachers and students. However it doesn't have any guideliness. Professor Sujatha Surepally, who teaches at Satavahana University, lamented, “Since inception, this university has not formed any Committee Against Sexual Harassment. Other universities at least have some redressal cell, but Satavahana University lacks such a body. We have been fighting to constitute such a committee but no action has been taken. Just a month ago they constituted a SC. BC and women's cell, but it doesn't have any guidelines.”
Telangana University: The university does not have an ICC, however, according to university officials, all complaints of sexual harassment are dealt with by a women’s cell. TU Registrar, K Shiva Shankar said that the institution has two bodies for complaints – a grievance cell and a women’s cell – both headed by women staff.
University of Hyderabad: UoH has an ICC formed as per UGC rules: The 14-member body has two student representatives, who are elected to the committee. The chairperson is a woman, and students we spoke to say they are aware of the existence of the committee and how to approach them with a complaint.
How an ICC in a university should be constituted
The UGC has set rules against sexual harassment as per The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. As per the rules, all Indian colleges and universities need to have an ICC. This committee is meant to conduct inquiries into sexual harassment complaints from students, faculty and non-teaching staff. It is also required to provide assistance to complainants if they want to file a case with the police.
The ICC should have a Presiding Officer (chairperson), who is a female faculty member employed at the senior-most level. Other members must include two faculty members, two non-teaching employees and a representative from an NGO working for the rights of women. In addition to this, as per UGC guidelines, the committee must have three elected student representatives.
Why ICCs are important
The primary function of an ICC is prevention of sexual harassment, and to redress complaints. GSCASH representatives insist that there ought to be proper visible signs of GSCASH across the university with helplines and instructions on how to file a complaint.
Firdaus, a student from University of Hyderabad, and also a former GSCASH member said, “When you have a GSCASH/ICC in place it means that you are acknowledging sexual harassment at workplace, which is very important. The ‘women’s’ cell or ‘grievance’ cell are just not enough.”
“There are several flaws in the GSCASH, but not having a GSCASH is against the UGC guidelines. It is a violation,” she said.
Another former GSCASH student representative, Tushara Balaparameswaran of UoH said, “GSCASH/ICC plays a great role in averting crimes against women and also makes sure they are dealing with cases of sexual harassment without outing the names of the complainants.”
“Students do not report instances of sexual harassment unless they are assured of their characters not being maligned. So concealing their identities is very important. The GSCASH follows it in principle. Just a grievance cell, whose members do not know how to handle issues sensitively, will only do more harm,” Tushara said.