The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is an umbrella legislation as it aims to prevent sexual harassment at workplaces, giving ‘workplace’ a very wide definition to cover a host of organisations like NGOs, corporate houses and higher education institutions. It applies to both organised and unorganised sectors, with an employee strength of ten or more people.
Understanding the sensitive need for creating safe campuses, the University Grants Commission introduced the UGC (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulation, 2015. This regulation, among a host of other things, requires institutes covered to establish an Internal Committee (IC) or reconstitute the existing body, already functioning for the same purpose like GSCASH, as an IC. For this purpose, post the regulation, a series of notices have been issued by the UGC- June 2017, May 2019 and October 2019.
The POSH Act and the regulation have to be read together whenever POSH mechanisms are setup -when preventive, prohibitive and redressal mechanisms are put in place in any higher educational institution. The UGC Regulation is specifically designed keeping in mind the needs of HEIs, like gender-neutral protection of all students keeping in mind their vulnerability, recognising actions to be taken depending on the harasser; action under service rules for employees and disciplinary action against students.
The Act and the regulation give wide scope to the IC of the HEI and would include the following cases where-
(a) a teacher sexually harasses another teacher;
(b) a student sexually harasses a co-student;
(c) harassment of students by peers from outside the limits of the HEI, like in case of fests;
(d) where a teacher sexually harasses a student, on account of the hierarchical relationship; and
(e) a student sexually harasses a teacher.
The regulation mandates the following responsibilities on the HEI –
A number of queries arise in the context of sexual harassment at the campus, such as what if the sexual harassment took place outside the campus? What does a vulnerable group imply? What is the procedure to file a complaint against a student/teacher, in case of sexual harassment? What if the Chairperson doesn’t register the complaint? What if there is a violation of the guidelines?
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