Bangalore University, it appears, has a long way to go in removing the stigma attached to Sexual Harassment (Redressal) Cells in its affiliated institutions.
Recent inspections by the university inquiry committees have revealed that several of the affiliated colleges do not have a sexual harassment redress cell.
As per the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act), 2013, it is mandatory for every institution to have a committee to address complaints pertaining to sexual harassment.
The university has also included ‘Sexual Harassment Cell’ as one of the parameters for assessing a college prior to granting affiliation. However, for most part, it remains on paper as the university does not consider it mandatory.
Ironically, the university itself does not have a fully functional committee at present. According to Registrar Prof K K Seethamma, the earlier committee is being redesigned.
Besides, the university officials seem to be unclear about its status. Speaking to Deccan Herald, the registrar said: “Women's colleges may not need such a cell. If they form, it is well and good. There is no fear even if colleges do not have it. They can approach the university’s committee, if need be.”
Many of the colleges are not even aware of the university’s committee for addressing sexual harassment complaints. Also, constituting a cell comes with stigma attached.
When Deccan Herald contacted some of the colleges where the cell is yet to be established, the common reason given for not constituting it was: “Our institution is a safe place.”
B S Srikanta, principal, RBANMS First Grade College, said that was the common perception among colleges. His college too is yet to constitute the Cell.
“There is no doubt that such a Cell has to be constituted. In our institution, no such incidents have been reported in the last 40 years. However, I think it is time for us to constitute it.”
For others, setting up a Cell is a mere gateway for accreditation. The principal of one of the government colleges said: “The cell was a requirement for NAAC accreditation. This college does not even have its own building. It is running on the premises of a school.”
Further, he said, the total strength is hardly 200. Hence, even if it was a co education college, there would be no problems.
On the other hand, even those institutions that claim to have constituted it, do not have functional cells. B P Madhumathi, member of the BU Academic Council who was part of the Local Inquiry Committee inspections, said the colleges were given marks for having a Cell.
“They can show it on paper. But one does not know whether they are functional. Which is why, the inquiry committees need to spend at least half a day with each college to assess all details. Otherwise, merely assigning scores based on what is shown on paper will not help.”
Kanti Joshi, Advocate and Convener of SASHA (Support Against Sexual Harassment), insisted that the university must make it mandatory for institutions to constitute the Cell.
“All educational institutions must have a committee as per the 2013 Act. Students should be aware of what constitutes sexual harassment. It is not difficult to create the awareness. Colleges can begin by devoting one hour per year for one student,” she said, adding that any institution with more than 10 people ought to have a functional committee for addressing grievances pertaining to sexual harassment.