On April 16 this year, Tamil Nadu woke up to news of an academic scandal of enormous proportions.
Nirmala Devi, an assistant professor of the Devanga Arts College in Virudhunagar district was was heard luring four woman students to be party to an ‘arrangement’, where their academic and financial needs would be taken care of, if they accepted the ‘opportunity.’ In the nearly 19-minute long conversation, she repeatedly states that higher officials are involved.
The shocking case raised a number of questions, including the existence and efficacy of Internal Complaints Committees (ICC) in colleges and universities. The constitution of an ICC is mandated by the University Grants Commission (UGC) but how many universities in the state have them? And if they do, are students aware of their existence, and are they confident of approaching them for redressal?
While TNM attempted to contact all major universities in the state, we detail below the findings from those who have responded:
The University has an ICC under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) cell ‘in order to create and maintain a community in which teaching, non-teaching staff and Students can work together in an environment free of sexual violence, harassment, exploitation, and intimidation.’
How is its presence being conveyed to the students? The cell has a dedicated website for this purpose. In addition to this, the website contains a link to a 'Handbook on Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace published by UGC'. Dr K Shanthi who heads the cell tells TNM that the cell is in the process of electing its new members. A list of existing members comprising student representatives has also been put up on the site.
The University has a Sexual Harassment Complaints Committee cell with the mission of “Creating an environment for women to empower their right to work and learn with dignity.” The website contains the provisions, definitions and other details of the ICC, in addition to downloadable copies of the university's policy on prohibiting sexual harassment, in addition to the 2013 Act. Speaking to TNM, representatives of the college said that in addition to this, a department-wise student grievance cell was present for each of the 19 departments.
How is its presence being conveyed to the students? “Every department and hostel has an information desk where they have a notice. Circulars are sent out periodically,” says the official.
According to the University website, an ICC has been constituted. A full list of members and their contact details in addition to a Handbook on Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 has been provided. The committee outlines its functions which include being open to 'receive complaints from the students, faculty members, staff of Bharathiar University.’ However, it states that the complaints will be received in person or through registered post and complaints can be lodged by the victim or parents/ guardian of the victim.
Speaking to TNM, the Public Relations Officer informs that students are made aware of the ICC through boards put up across the campus.
Tamil Nadu Agricultural University
The University has ICC that comprises of five members - one Chairman, three internal members and one external member. How is its presence being conveyed to the students? “Most of the students in our university are hostellers. We visit hostels at the beginning of every new year and we also talk about ICC in NSS camps,” said an official from the University.
ICC’s current Chairman, who has been on board for the past three years, added that the Committee has not received any sexual harassment complaints so far. “But students have approached us with other learning problems such as understanding instructions in english,” he further added.
Tamil Nadu Dr MGR Medical University
The University does not have an ICC. However, a committee is formed sporadically based on complaints. The members who constitute the committee also vary based on the kind of issue at hand. The committee will also have one external member and a couple of internal members and will be guided by the Registrar/Vice Chancellor. Students will be a part of the committee only when required, for instance when there’s a fight between two factions of students.
This University monitors a number of medical colleges in the state and there are several colleges that come under it – Nursing, Dental, Medical, totalling up to 400-500 colleges in all. The authorities added that each college has a grievance cell in place.
“Recently when a student was reported to have hurt a dog at Madha Medical College, the University intervened, made an enquiry, called for parents and suspended the student with a penalty,” says the Dean of Students, adding, “In my 1.5 years as Dean of Students, we have not received any sexual harassment complaints.”
Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University
Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University is a University that monitors several other colleges in the state. Speaking to TNM, PRO Bhaskar says that the University does not have an ICC but every College has grievances redressal committee.
The committees are formed based on issues, hostels have a separate committee and they also have an anti-ragging committee. “Members from this committee are posted throughout the day to make sure nothing untoward happens,” he adds.
However, the University has no protocol is in place to let students know of its existence. “If there’s a complaint, students are free to talk to their immediate higher authority who will raise the necessary flags,” says Bhaskar.
On being asked if students have approached the University with complaints, he is vague. “If there are complaints, students can approach us.”
Central University of Tamil Nadu
The University has a long list of committees in place – Anti-Ragging Squad, Committee Against Sexual Harassment (CASH)/Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), Grievance Redressal Committee (Teachers), Grievance Redressal Committee (Non-Teaching Staff), Grievance Redressal Committee (Students), Hostel Committee. The website also lists the members of each committee. CASH/ICC has six members including an external member. The official however declined sharing further information on phone.