JGU organises conference on challenges and practices to address sexual harassment in Indian universities
JGU organised a two-day conference on ‘Sexual Harassment in Indian Universities: Challenges, Practices and Perspectives’ on the 26th and 27th of March on the university campus. Various eminent experts, journalists, academics, and students participated in debates and discussions on pertinent themes. The conference was organised as a part of a year-long study by the Centre for Human Rights Studies on sexual harassment at universities in Delhi-NCR.
The first day included expert panels on the definition and scope of sexual harassment, invisible barriers to the functioning of Internal Complaints Committees in universities, and the relevance of the #MeToo movement for evidentiary standards, redressal measures, and justice delivery systems. Speakers were invited from across India and a variety of professions, perspectives, and fields of work.
Dr. Rukmini Sen, Associate Professor, Ambedkar University, Delhi, started the day with a discourse about the evolution of the Sexual Harassment Committee and the meaning of sexual harassment, articulating the importance of universities in giving freedom to students and staff by conducting a process of enquiry that is democratic, stating, “Collective articulation of azaadi comes with a need to move beyond the committee.” Dr. Sen pushed for a renewed model of handling sexual harassment, speaking of the need for caring, listening, and conversing as a practice in politics, and the need to go beyond speech as is understood by the law. Saptarshi Mandal, Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School continued the discussion, with a twist, speaking of same-sex sexual harassment and its treatment in universities. Cases of sexual misconduct that did not qualify as sexual harassment were discussed. The politics of ‘remorse’ was touched upon. Finally, Dr. Nivedita Menon’s (Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi) talk included three important dynamics that covered the need to desexualize the work and education space, consent within power dynamics, and the debate of sexuality as desire versus sexuality as violence.
The discussion on the functioning of Internal Complaints Committee’s (ICC) began with Dr. Albeena Shakil, Associate Professor, Jindal Global Law School speaking of the need for democratic consensus in the composition of an ICC body, and the importance of movements such as #MeToo to break the barrier of self-blame that makes it impossible to complain to an official body. Vqueeram Aditya Sahai, a queer activist from Delhi, began with questions about the masculinity of the act of sexual harassment and the binary between invisibility, visibility, and how this informs redressal measures. Integrating caste perspectives with the treatment of sexual harassment, Vqueeram spoke of how the failure of ICCs could build feminist discourse. Ruchika Rao, Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School delivered a riveting talk on the nature of ‘Watchlist’ politics, and the parallel moralities in play, as well as the practical constraints of budget scarcity, unbiased external members, and the need for nuanced deliberation methods during ICC processes. Ms. Madhu Mehra, Lawyer, Executive Director, Partners for Law in Development concluded the panel with comments on the nature of complaints that are reported, and the issue of limitation periods for complaints.
Regarding social media movements and their influence on justice processes, Vaishnavi Suresh, a journalist from Bangalore, touched upon the reasons why students hesitate with approaching college ICCs, and mentioned the need for sensitivity while dealing with narratives and elements of abuse and trauma. Rahul Jayaram, Assistant Professor, Jindal School of Liberal Arts & Humanities followed, with comments on how the #MeToo Movement, as a social media phenomenon, has overwhelming power as a social ritual in defining what sexuality is. The news cycle, and how the #MeToo movement was left out of it, was an important point in his presentation.
Oishik Sircar, Associate Professor, Jindal Global Law School concluded the day’s discussion with an intricate study of the difference in perception and treatment of sexual harassment in public universities and private universities. He observed an oscillation that occurs between exceptionalism and isolation. He spoke of the theoretical oppositions that have arisen in the evolution of sexual harassment as a notion within and without the law, and the way we think of sexual harm, stating finally, that even within the oppositions, there are more similarities between oppositionist positions.
The second day of the conference hosted doctoral, Master’s, and senior students from across India, including Ashoka University (Sonipat), Delhi University, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University (Lucknow), Amity University, National Law University-Delhi, and Aligarh Muslim University. Ms. Malavika Parthasarathy from National Law University-Delhi received an award for Best Presentation.
The conference will publish its inputs shortly on a public forum, and the discussions will inform the research project on sexual harassment in Indian universities. The organisers and projects leaders are Rohini Sen and Alliya Anjum, law faculty at the Jindal Global Law School.