Safe and secure colleges and universities help create such environments where students can thrive. In an institution like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), with a vast campus of about 1,000 acres, safety and security of students, teachers as well as the workers matters a lot and this constitutes a prime matter of concern, discussion and debate. In order to ensure such a security therefore, a quasi-judicial body was established in 1999 after a protracted student struggle, which is called GSCASH. It helps in dealing with sexual harassment cases across JNU.
Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment or GSCASH as it is called, is a working group appointed by the Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University. Headed by Professor Karuna Chanana on 5th September, 1997 it was formed after the Vishakha judgement in 1987. This was on the basis of the Sexual harassment at Workplace Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on the 2nd of September, 2012 which is now The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. It defines sexual harassment as laid down by the Supreme Court in Vishakha and others vs State of Rajasthan (1997) case, which prescribed the guideline for an institution like GSCASH in any workplace, for which there was a huge struggle to include universities as workplaces, so as to include the relationships, be it between the students, teachers or workers, as a workplace relationship, there was a protracted struggle and the JNU Policy against sexual harassment was announced in a circular dated 5th February,1999. The GSCASH was set up wide at JNU with 3 major functions; Gender sensitization and orientation, Crisis management, Mediation and formal enquiry and redressal.
The vision was of course, as it mentions; sensitization and redressal in cases of sexual harassment that take place in campus. We need to understand the difference between the Students’ Union and GSCASH where, the former is a seat for struggle and GSCASH is an empowered body. It can take actions as far as administrative setup is concerned. It can give restrain orders to people.
JNU is the first university to set up anything like GSCASH in which cases of sexual harassment inside the campuses are also dealt with.
The latest election to select the student representatives for this body took place on the 4th of April in the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus this year. Six candidates with various agendas were in the fray for the two student representative seats in GSCASH. It is prescribed that one representative must be a female because it is important to have a female member amongst the elected representatives and which can be also seen in the voting pattern that your vote is valid only if you have voted for at least one female candidate. Although the election is not contested on the basis of organisations or a candidate’s political ideology unlike the JNU Students’ Union elections, most of the candidates are supported by organisations within the campus. The 13-member committee comprises of two elected student members. Most other members are nominated. The nominated members must include at least seven women. Apart from two students, the committee will comprise two faculty members; one officer; one staff member; two wardens; one eminent woman academician from outside the University; one woman representative of an NGO with experience in issues of sexual harassment; one woman counsellor; and one representative each of JNUSU, JNU Teachers’ Association, JNU Staff Association, and JNU Officers’ Association. The result was declared by 5th of April. The oath taking took place on 6th. Sonam Goyal of the Democratic Students’ Federation and Aparna Mahiyaria supported by the Students’ Federation of India grabbed the two seats.
Sonam Goyal is a Provisional Ph.D scholar in her first year in the Centre of Political Science, School of Social Studies in JNU. She has completed her graduation from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University. Apart from her political career in JNU, she has various interests in reading, dancing, singing and she has been a basketball player in school and a rifle shooter in college. She came up for contest saying, “The main agenda is to ensure that no administrative post is awarded to a person undergoing a GSCASH inquiry and to allow students to file complaints online.”
Aparna Mahiyaria, a student of Linguistics is doing her first year in Masters in JNU, after her graduation in English from Lady Shri Ram College. Interested in reading and painting, she has also been doing theatre for three years with Jana Natya Manch.
Student representation in GSCASH was instituted through the constitution of GSCASH. It was to give representation to students so that the hierarchy in the enquiry is abolished giving fair chance of justice. Also students combined with other members undertake sensitization process among the student community.
GSCASH however, has become very distant from the students. Now, the demand for GSCASH came within the students’ community. People consider GSCASH as a punishment giving authoritative body but that is not the purpose. The purpose is redressal but most important is that along with redressal is sensitization. Sensitization is not just for men but also for women that everybody understands why GSCASH is there, and what its functions are, what are its rules and regulations, what are its procedures, what are the policies against sexual harassment. This information is absolutely missing. People don’t know where the GSCASH office is, who the representatives are, who the volunteers are from their schools and hostels. The link has ceased working in the face of this alienation, whereby people don’t know about GSCASH and they look at it as authoritative. And it is where one needs to pitch in. That is this alienation which is being utilised by both the administration and the right political wing in the campus. So, there are two attacks that we face at GSCASH, one is from the administration where we see it has been shielding people who have been found guilty by the GSCASH. On the other hand, we see certain sections in the campus, which are trying to further alienate the students by spreading lies about GSCASH. Other thing that is happening is leaking of information about GSCASH complainants’ name, details of the case. Very figurative details have leaked not just in whisper campaigns but also in posters. This creates more pressure on anybody who thinks of filing a case with GSCASH, thinking of being slandered, and fearing of the details coming out and being maligned. So this is the context we have and in this context, the foremost thing is to bring GSCASH back to place, by strengthening it.
Aparna says, “In my agenda, I suggested that one person from the hostel committee and persons amongst the school counsellors should be mandatory to work with GSCASH.
Having more confident and enthusiastic representatives like Aparna and Sonam being elected, this task could be easier when Aparna says, “In my agenda, I suggested that one person from the hostel committee and persons amongst the school counsellors should be mandatory to work with GSCASH. I suggested that with a minor amendment in the constitution, GSCASH should be enabled to take a better decision considering all the facts and views regarding the case. And I have pledged that I will not stop writing to people. The moment an enquiry committee has formed, I will continuously write letters to people to ensure that the enquiry is over within three months.” Normally we see that the decisions of the cases are delayed for seemingly unknown reasons which results in the loss of confidence and faith of the people regarding GSCASH. The paramount need is to restore the faith of the people and make them realise that GSCASH is the ideal court of appeal about any issue regarding gender discrimination and harassment of any kind. Aparna has further added that, “You have no legitimacy to talk about things outside if things around you, things within your control are not all right.” That is why GSCASH is extremely important, its functioning is important to ensure that any kind of sexual harassment is accounted. To ensure that people are sensitized enough. According to Sonam, “GSCASH needs to be strengthened so that the campus secures its progressive character. It’s not a seat of power but a position of responsibility and struggle for future.” The Annual Report has to be updated every year which gives information about the achievements, cases dealt with, actions taken against various offenders accused of gender assault etc. But, it is observed that no reports have been updated after 2011-12. This is a serious issue. Unless and until reports are being updated, GSCASH cannot repose the faith of people in itself.
Talking about the importance of independent candidates, Aparna determinedly said that, “Now, just like you cannot be any party card holder and be a judge in a court, similarly you cannot contest elections under the name of an organisation… So it is important that in formal functioning, you are impartial. Politically I am inclined to SFI but the moment I entered GSCASH, when I am working for GSCASH, I am non-partisan. Therefore it is important that I put forward my candidature as a non-partisan candidate. Of course, I need an organization to support me in terms of electoral voting, campaigning, and all that.”
Coming to the achievements of GSCASH in previous years, many significant events can be counted. One is of course the establishment of GSCASH as a consequence of many struggles fought by the students. JNU is the first university to set up anything like this in which cases of sexual harassment inside the campuses are also dealt with. In a patriarchal society like India, it is imperative that every university in the country has an establishment like GSCASH within its system. Another significant achievement is that in one of its early years, there was a case where the faculty member was found guilty and GSCASH took a strong action against the accused and it was observed that there were no further issues of a faculty member accused of harassing for five years. Sonam remembered, “In my opinion the student representatives did complete their tenure and few things. For the first time a Xerox machine is given to GSCASH. Also permanent staff has been deployed in GSCASH for the first
time. The salary of one staff has been finally increased. There were four workshops for sensitization along with the orientation sessions.”
Lastly it can be said that we can certainly look forward towards GSCASH’s bright future in its two new student representatives with their promises and new great agendas. We can hope that these two vibrant leaders will lead GSCASH to new heights of excellence and help to improve the organisation’s effectiveness and accountability in the coming years so that the campus of JNU becomes truly gender just and becomes a landmark of gender equality in the country.
Featured image source: http://pacificgenderjustice.org/