ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Isolated Complaints Committees

Is SHWW Act, 2013 Effective in Higher Education Institutions?

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 has been translated into policies against sexual harassment in corporations and organisations and in many higher education institutions. This article draws on our joint experiences working on Internal Complaints Committees in HEIs to examine current practices and show the new issues and concerns that have emerged, and how accumulating case law impacts the implementation of the act. We point out some best practices of HEIs to show that despite continuing challenges, ICCs have tried to not only secure justice for survivors of sexual harassment but also created broader support systems for them.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (hereafter the act) has entered its 10th anniversary year. Its passage would not have been possible without the active engagement of many feminists and activists across the country. The law has been translated into policies against sexual harassment in private and public corporations and organisations and indeed in many higher education institutions (HEIs) as well; it is with the last of these that we are specifically dealing here. The University Grants Commission (UGC) set up a committee in order to bring out a set of guidelines to be followed in all state-funded Indian colleges and universities. Several Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and other HEIs also established their own policies, which included in some cases the concerns of transgender and sexual minority persons as well.

This is a good moment to pause and review the potential of this law and examine the working of the Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs) to create support mechanisms in HEIs within the ambit of the law. Though a decade has not passed since the law came into being, an array of criticisms has accumulated against its working and in particular against the functioning and effectiveness of ICCs. Some writers felt that the ICCs should be outright rejected. Just after the passage of the act, John (2014) arti­culated a sharp critique of ICCs. She argued that the act treats sexual harassment in the workplace as a private affair between two individuals or parties, with no explicit responsibility on the employers, and disconnected from the state’s juridical obligations. She held that the separation of the handling of sexual harassment complaints from the normal disciplinary apparatus within organisations effectively bifurcates gender and labour issues, damaging both, as it potentially pitches individuals in the organisation against each other and carves out a discrete sphere of employer-appointed adjudication of sexual harassment complaints as opposed to arbitration involving employee associations and unions. For others also (Chadha 2017), the spread of the #MeToo movement in India in 2017, which concentrated particularly on academia, constituted a sharp indictment of male transgressors in higher educational spaces across the country and the difficulty of obtaining justice against them through formal mechanisms.

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Updated On : 10th Nov, 2022
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