Internal complaints committees in education institutions serving their purpose?

The Internal Complaints Committee set up in higher education institutions to investigate complaints of sexual harassment from students and staff are not functioning properly.

Published: 20th September 2021 10:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th September 2021 10:20 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

COIMBATORE:  The Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) set up in higher education institutions to investigate complaints of sexual harassment from students and staff are not functioning properly, an RTI activist has alleged.

On September 5, 2020, the State government sent a circular to all universities seeking details about the functioning of ICC constituted under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2013. The consolidated compliance report was to be submitted to the Social Welfare and Nutritious Meal Programme Department which would then send it to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The Commission had asked for the report for research purposes.

To know if the universities had submitted their reports, Coimbatore-based Consumer Awareness and Protection Association (CAPA) president NR Ravishankar sought nine types of information from nine universities through the RTI petitions.

He told TNIE, "First, I sought to know the date of receipt of the circular. Anna University replied it did not receive the circular, while University of Madras, Madurai Kamaraj University, Tamil University, Thiruvalluvar University and Dr Ambedkar Law University did not reply. Only Manomaniam Sundaranar University, Bharathidasan University and Bharathiar University replied saying that they received the circular on September 07, 2020."

He said, except Bharathidasan University, the eight other universities had not submitted the consolidated compliance report to the Social Welfare and Nutritious Meal Programme Department. Further university registrars, who are also public information officers, refused to give information on the complaints taken from affected women, action taken on them, the number of rooms allotted to teaching faculty, details of the CCTV camera fitted in each room of the faculty of each department, the list of ICC committee members, the number of complaints received from girl students and copies of minutes and agenda of ICC meetings.

To his query on the complaints received, he said, Anna University had replied that it had received two complaints in the academic year 2017-18 and 12 complaints in 2018 -19. Manomaniam Sundaranar University had got eight complaints. To the query on CCTVs, Dr Ambedkar Law University said it had not fitted the CCTVs, he said.

"The replies from the universities indicate that the ICCs are not functioning effectively, leaving girl students and woman staff without safety. Hence, the chief minister should ensure their safety in higher education institutions by following norms strictly," he said. He also urged the State Information Commissioner to take stringent action on the public information officers who fail and refuse to provide the correct details to those who need information through RTI Act.

K Ramya (name changed), a PhD scholar at a university, told TNIE, "In 2019, a faculty member sexually harassed a student. When we took up the issue with the complaints committee, its members refused to take the complaint from the affected student. After we protested, a complaint was accepted. However, the members had been delaying inquiry and action. In fact, they tortured her mentally leading to her discontinuing her studies. She even tried to end her life. After a big protest, the committee finally suspended the faculty member." She alleged the committee in the university was functioning for a namesake.

Professor C Pichandy, former president of the Association of University Teachers (AUT), told TNIE, "The government should see the functioning of ICCs as a serious issue. Not only in higher education institutions, the committees are not working properly in private and government offices too. Crimes and sexual harassment of women can be prevented only if the committees functioned transparently. For that, Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women must ensure the functioning of the committee in all places."

Higher Education Secretary D Karthikeyan said that he would look into this issue.


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