Implementation of UGC Regulations against Sexual Harassment
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This International Working Women's Day, we the undersigned, most among us women students from various colleges and universities across the country remind you that the voice in which we speak today has come to us after more than a century of struggle, at the cost of the blood and sweat of women across the world. It is as a legacy of this history that women finally constitute more than 44% of the student population in higher education in this country. Yet, despite this, women's access to the university space remains restricted on many counts and marked by various kinds of gendered violence and discrimination. It was therefore with much relief and hope that we welcomed the University Grants Commission (Prevention, prohibition and redressal of sexual harassment of women employees and students in higher educational institutions) Regulation, 2015 as notified and brought into force by an official gazette on the 2nd of May, 2016.
The Regulation marks an important step forward in making higher education more accessible to women students in the country and establishing positive mechanisms like Internal Complaints Committees with elected student representatives in all colleges to address the challenge of sexual harassment and gender based violence. It charges all higher educational institutions with the binding responsibility of "creating its campus free from discrimination, harassment, retaliation or sexual assault at all levels". It further provides an elaborate list of supportive measures, which recognize the compounded vulnerability of students on the basis of "region, class, caste, sexual orientation, minority identity and being differently abled". At the same time, the regulations also clearly state that "concern for safety of women students cannot be cited to impose discriminatory rules for women in hostels" and that "campus safety policies should not result in securitization, such as over monitoring or policing or curtailing the freedom of movement, especially for women employees and students". It also mandates such important steps as according priority to construction of women's hostels, ensuring reliable public transport, gender sensitive health care infrastructure and counseling, adequate lighting on campuses and sensitization programs with faculty, administrative and security staff among others things. Read with the Saksham Committee Report on Measures for Ensuring the Safety of Women and Programmes for Gender Sensitization on Campuses, it puts forth a valuable and comprehensive paradigm for addressing major concerns of the women student community.
Unfortunately, even nearly a year since its coming into force, the Regulation remains barely recognized by most universities and colleges across the country and almost nowhere implemented in its full scope. The pressing need for its implementation however is only fractionally reflected on one hand by the numerous student agitations to have emerged across the country on cases of sexual harassment, from the Hokkolorob movement in Kolkata to the Stand with Nomoly movement in Jammu; and in the countless instances of women students collectively raising their voice against securitization, protectionism, discrimination and high handedness of hostel administration in the name of safety, besides other places, in New Delhi, Lucknow, Patiala, Aligarh, Varanasi, Allahabad, Bhopal, Mumbai, Chennai and across Kerala on the other.
WE ARE EXTREMELY DISMAYED TO SEE THAT THE UGC, HAVING NOTIFIED THE REGULATION, SEEMS TO HAVE TAKEN NO INITIATIVE TO IMPLEMENT IT, DESPITE IT BEING BINDING IN NATURE AND INCLUDING A LONG LIST OF ACTIONS TO BE TAKEN BY THE UGC IN CASE OF NON-COMPLIANCE.
Even today, representation of women from social backgrounds burdened with histories of oppression based on caste, class, religion, region and other such counts remains extremely skewed. Many women also continue in higher education only after a lot of struggle against pressures to marry, or submit to discriminatory norms imposed upon them by their own families and communities.
PROVIDING TANGIBLE POSITIVE INFRASTRUCTURE LIKE AFFORDABLE AND SECURE UNIVERSITY ACCOMMODATIONS FOR ALL WOMEN STUDENTS, REGULARIZATION OF PG ACCOMMODATIONS IN THE PERIOD WHERE HOSTELS ARE NOT ALLOTTED AND OTHER SUCH SUPPORT IS ESSENTIAL TO OFFSET THESE CHALLENGES. INSTEAD, THE CURTAILMENT OF FUNDS TO SUPPORT NEWER HOSTELS BY THE UGC HAS MEANT THAT NEW SELF-SUSTAINING HOSTELS COMING UP FOR WOMEN ARE EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE, AND OFTEN DOUBLE THE AMOUNT OF THE MEN'S HOSTELS CONSTRUCTED MUCH EARLIER AND WITH THE SUPPORT OF UGC. THIS AMOUNTS TO REINFORCING THEIR HISTORICAL DISPRIVILEGE ON ACCOUNT EVEN OF THE UGC.
The massive cost paid everyday by countless women students across the country for this inertia on the part of higher educational institutions and the UGC could not be over-stated. The lack of positive mechanisms for addressing sexual harassment, a gender insensitive learning environment and lack of infrastructure such as cheap and non-discriminatory hostels means that women students constantly carry the heavy weight of vulnerability and insecurity while pursuing their education, while the university community remains unequipped to offer them any support. Moreover, aggression and harassment is encouraged by the impunity they enjoy in such a set up. This failure is instead sought to be covered up by imposing protectionist and discriminatory rules on women, placing them at a further disadvantage in terms of accessing resources of the university and gaining other experiences and exposure requisite to a person's comprehensive development, SO MUCH SO THAT HOSTEL CURFEWS EFFECTIVELY BAR WOMEN STUDENTS FROM ACCESSING THE LIBRARY AND LABORATORY AFTER CERTAIN HOURS DESPITE PAYING THE SAME FEES. They are thus disenfranchised of even the most basic control over their own lives and independence of decision making, increasing their social disadvantage and vulnerability.
We demand that the UGC:
- Immediately implements the University Grants Commission (Prevention, prohibition and redressal of sexual harassment of women employees and students in higher educational institutions) Regulation, 2015.
- Take strict action against Colleges/Universities for non implementation of the Regulations.
- Release a definite time bound plan for construction of women hostels for all women students in public universities.
- Direct colleges/universities to regularize and standardize private student accommodations/PGs for women in the period where hostels are yet to be provided.
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