Harassment On Campus: A Tale Of Depravity Hard To Disregard
Over the years, the cases of sexual harassment and abuse are growing rampant in workplaces. Today, the cases are more acknowledged and heard of, but it hardly improves the situation lurking around in the society. There are many causes of sexual harassment but the most important one is the culture and values system and the relative power and status of men and women in our society. The patriarchal viewpoints create an atmosphere that allows men the freedom of sexual harassment, while women remain vulnerable. However, as the number of cases is increasing day by day, male harassment cases are also emerging. The problem is not just the nuisances like stalking, social media abuse and verbal or physical abuse, but also the post-harassment trauma that victims face.
Most people argue that sexual harassment is not as dreadful as it used to be when women lacked several rights that they enjoy these days. However, the issue is altogether different, but who is to blame: the increasing depravity in the modern society or an ineffective legal system?
Monday Morning picked up the issue after few cases came into notice this academic year. For a better analysis, let us narrate to you a story, fictional, yet not so fictional.
A TALE OF MALIGN: THE VICTIMS SPEAK
The day was like any other. Well, maybe a special one for the three friends A, B, and C (names changed for privacy concerns). A has got an internship at the most wanted institute of all. Hard work had paid off! B was just the average student, tired from the average day of lectures and assignments but nevertheless hardworking. The amount of effort her parents had put together to make her reach here, inspired her every single day to burn the midnight oil. She would get through with flying colours. C was a different story altogether. She knew what her future held for her. Even though engineering was not her area of interest, she definitely needs it to make a base for what she actually wanted to do that is, help people. Well there a lesser known friend to them all, D. why is the person lesser known? What is he doing in the story of three people? We will find out soon.
Case 1. An Evening among the Books
Remember the internship A was selected for at the premier institute? Well, maybe that explains why she came to the building with which she shared the strongest bond. The library. Her favourite go-to place. That evening could have been the usual one, where she either issues a book or spends some time just sitting there, browsing through her laptop. Just as she is exiting the building, she hears the familiar yet dreadful noise of a bike, something she had been trying to forget and ignore. This man had been stalking her since weeks. Initially, it felt like a coincidence, but slowly it turned into a terror. She couldn’t quit looking over her shoulder. The man had the audacity to follow her to the hostel itself. Over time it became so unbearable that she was too afraid to go outside at night alone. She had a friend ‘D’, who was the first person she reached out to, but in this case, he just thought A was just exaggerating the whole incident. The man had improvised his methods, using social media to reach out to her. Quite unsure as to ask for help, whether people would judge her first, she gathered the courage to file a complaint. Eventually, the stalking stopped, but the damage had already been done, her mental peace already affected. Her biggest regret would be the hesitation to raise a voice in time.
Case 2. Scared or startled?
B has had a good yet tiring day. She plans to relax but she remembers that she has to withdraw money from the ATM. She reluctantly goes to the ATM, draws out money and is walking back. It was around 7 in the evening, it’s dark but it's not a worry, the campus is very safe till at least 11.00 pm. But all of a sudden, she feels someone hit her hard, she is almost thrust to the ground. It is so sudden that she is unable to take an action, she got up and as it registered her she saw a man speeding up on his bike. Gradually, she felt the physical pain but it wasn't as strong as the pain she felt as she realized that she had been hit in the most disgusting manner on her lower back. Tears of embarrassment and helplessness flow down her cheeks. But no, she can't let it happen to her. She runs to the security posted on the gate of KMS and calls her friends. The guards come for her help, some of them are on bikes. They saw the man on the bike again but as he sped to the exit gate, they couldn't catch him. The security failed, maybe they didn't try hard enough. A molester escaped unhurt or unscrutinized from the premises of a safe campus.
There is ‘D’ who watched the whole incidence but it doesn't bother him because it's not really a big deal, some girls have had worse.
(This case, however, wasn't reported.)
Case 3. Breaking the silence
C has been in the Institute for a long time, the campus is like the second home. But last year had been little disturbing. This man, from her lab, had been following her, almost everywhere: the lab, the hostel, the canteen, the department. It didn't affect her at first, but lately, she had been disturbed, almost scared whenever she sees him. The last two semesters have been like this.
Today she is walking back to the hostel with her friend D. She feels safe today, at least by the time she heard the similar sound of the bike. The man passed by their side at a violent speed and stopped some meters away. He was waiting for them, maybe. It's been enough, she decides to speak up but the man started slut-shaming her and abusing her. D has had it enough, it is his friend now who is being harassed, he starts recording the whole scene as evidence for the situation. However, the man snatched his phone and threatens to break it. Gradually a crowd gathered and somehow they escaped the situation. She, anyway, decides to file a complaint against him with the Internal Complaints Committee(ICC).
What happened with the above three friends can happen to anyone. So what is being done about it? Are we too ignorant about it or is it just the perfect time to raise a voice? We also look at the person ‘D’, who can be any person, even us. We can choose to ignore what is going on around us, know what is harassment and still remain mute or raise a voice against these evils that lurk around us.
THE ABOVE STORIES WERE NOT IN FACT STORIES BUT THE SIMPLIFIED VERSIONS OF SOME OF THE NUMEROUS UNHEARD AND SUPPRESSED NEFARIOUS HAPPENINGS WITHIN OUR INSTITUTE.
ACTIONS BEING TAKEN:
The Internal Complaints Committee(ICC) [Constituted under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013] has taken up the responsibility to tackle sexual harassment of any kind, happening anywhere in the premises of NIT Rourkela. The committee has been giving their maximum efforts to tackle sexual harassment in the campus. It has been six years to the establishment of the committee and it has solved numerous cases. Headed by Prof. Dipti Patra the committee consists of five members, three women members, and two male members. Again, four of the members are internal members and one external i.e. a professional in the field. Below is an extract from the interview, where Prof. Dipti Patra speaks about the happenings since she joined in April 2018.
The following are some of the significant points from the rulebook that the ICC follows-
In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (3) of Section I or the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (14 of20 13), the Central Government hereby appoints the 9th day of December, 2013 as the date on which the provisions of the said Act shall come into force.
Whereas sexual harassment results in a violation of the fundamental rights of a woman to qualify under articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India and her right to life and to live with dignity under article 21 of the Constitution and right to practice ;
My profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business which includes a right to a safe environment free from sexual harassment; Whereas the protection against sexual harassment and the right to work with dignity are universally recognised human rights by international conventions and instruments such as Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, which has been ratified on the 25th June, 1993 by the Government of India: and whereas it is expedient to make provisions for giving effect to the said Convention for protection of women against sexual harassment at workplace.
RESPONSES FROM THE AUTHORITIES:
MM: Could you give us a walkthrough of a regular complaint to the ICC and how it is dealt with?
DP: The first step is to lodge a complaint, with the necessary details. Sometimes, we get cases directly recommended by the Director, or Head Of Departments but it is usually victims who report to us. This is followed by a meeting with the victim first and then the accused to take both of their statements which are done using a questionnaire. Then we analyze the case to classify it. There are various categories defined under the sexual harassment at workplace act. After that, we give the case a 3 months window period to investigate. The investigation procedure is quite long as collecting evidence is not so easy. Some cases are reported too late, hence for them, the evidence almost vanishes with time. After that, if the accused is found guilty, the case is recommended to the director for further action.
MM: What are some of the problems the ICC faces during the investigation?
DP: The ICC has to be very sure the evidence collected is quite authentic and not manipulated. But in most of the cases, it becomes a tedious task as we find out and talk to all the witnesses. Some of the evidence may turn obsolete so we try to work very meticulously. The CCTV footage helps us a great deal, and one of the cases could only be solved using the footage we received. Hence we have also requested our director sir to install more CCTVs in places where such incidents tend to take place. During the investigation, if the offence is a minor one, we also see if the victim wants to reconcile with the accused by talking about it or getting a serious apology. In that case, we do not take the issue further.
MM: How aware do you think the students are about the ICC?
DP: We feel that many of the students do not know about the ICC as there has been very less publicity about it. We had organized an awareness talk last year by a renowned speaker in BBA on how to tackle sexual harassment at the workplace, but the response was too minimal. We urge the students to avail of opportunities like this, as we are going to organize a similar talk session this year. The more people know about us, the braver they become in facing any kind of sexual harassment and deal with it at the earliest.
MM: Do you think the situation is under control?
DP: All the cases that come to us, we deal with it judiciously. In that way, it is under full control. But there still might be some cases which are not reported to us due to many reasons like fear, lack of awareness etc. When we are fully fledged with the knowledge of those cases too, we can say the situation is really under control. Although looking at other institutes, we can guarantee that by far, our institute is the safest of them all.
THE ANALYSIS: IS THE SITUATION UNDER CONTROL?
A case from the past:
In 2016, there had been a major case regarding the security of the institute. The then warden of KMS hostel had imposed a rule that if a girl entered the hostel after midnight their parents would be called. If the parents are not called, they will not be allowed to enter the hostel for the entire night. There was a case on a Friday night (15-01-2016) when some girls were made to call their parents. The Chief Security Officer(CSO) did not have any idea about the incident and he had informed all the security-related information to go through him. According to rule, no wardens could make any rule without concerning the CSO. There was a huge protest against this issue. Eventually, the rules were made as such: the movement of girls at night was restricted. The rules were made keeping in view their safety so that no mishaps occur.
Any form of harassment in the campus is an example of workplace harassment, which is a serious criminal intent and the accused can face severe punishment.
According to the ICC, the situation has been under control, there have been only five reported cases since April 2018 (three of which are solved and two are yet pending). However, looking at the fact that less than half of NITR population is aware of a committee taking care of cases of sexual harassment, it would be an understatement to say that women harassment in the campus is not so rare. Most of the times, students either want to avoid the disturbances or they do not see a possible way out of this nuisance. As mentioned by the ICC, students are requested to follow zero tolerance and report the issue immediately to the concerned authorities and try to collect enough possible evidence.
However, a good system fails without the proper execution of the law. Significant changes cannot be expected unless the guilty face punishments according to their offence. An under punished oppressor dares for an even bigger crime.
Also, what is expected is a vigilant and aware populace. A committee can only function to their optimum as long as the people of NITR are able to make full use of it. Only then can one expect a better and safer environment to reside in.