GSCASH: How it all began, how well it worked and why it should be supported


[Following the ‘dismantling’ of GSCASH[1] and the ‘constitution’ of an Internal Complaints Committee in JNU, the JNU administration has taken a giant step backwards. This brief narrative tells you why, and serves as a summary guide to the GSCASH archive through its references, so that you can judge for yourself: since the documentation is voluminous, only the most salient references are made here]

‘While in the preceding Recommendation No. 2 we have recommended that students and staff of all educational institutions may also be included within the definition of “workplace” under the proposed legislation, we are in receipt of certain submissions made [by] the Jawahar Lal Nehru University which, in part, deal with the issue of sexual harassment. Those universities, in which Internal Complaint Committees have functioned successfully to deal with sexual harassment, should share their internal guidelines on combating sexual harassment in their University with other Universities across India. As an example, the internal complaint committee of JNU is known as Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment, which is stated to have been extremely effective in its working partly due to the diverse nature of its constituent members. This model may be examined.’

Special Provisions as to Universities, Report of the Committee on Amendment to Criminal Law, (also known as Justice Verma Committee Report, 2013), p.140.

Today, more than ever, we are in danger of losing the institutional memory of mechanisms and procedures – such as GSCASH -- that have served JNU so well over the past few decades.[2] We may read this rich archive of co-operation, disagreement and collective deliberation, of successes and setbacks and indequacies as ‘witnesses’. We may ‘witness’ once more that creative process of establishing an exemplary mechanism that has been hailed both nationally and internationally.[3] We could also read it as an urgent reminder of all that is at stake in the present moment, not just the mechanism itself but the purposive tinkering, the constant remaking that brought it into being. What is at stake is the future of the university as a space safe and secure for the intellectual flourishing of students and faculty alike; what is imperiled today are the participative, and profoundly democratic ways in which an institution like JNU has been a ‘thought collective.’

How do institutions think? Mary Douglas had raised that important question about the suprapersonal institutional mind in order to suggest that the ‘entrenching of an idea is a social process’, as much an intellectual process as an economic and political one. Although discussions had happened prior to 1997 in smaller groups, such as the Gender Studies Forum at JNU, about institutionalizing mechanisms for a safe and secure, and therefore gender equal, campus, the Supreme Court’s landmark judgement Visakha and ors vs. State of Rajasthan on 13 August 1997 provided an urgent impetus. It enjoined all workplaces employing women to institute a set of procedures to protect them from sexual harassment while at work.

JNU set up the five member Karuna Chanana committee in 1997 following both Visakha and 'the surcharged atmosphere' on campus which called for an urgent institutional response.[4] Interestingly, the wardens played a key role in conveying the insecurity felt by women students. What mechanisms and procedures could ensure an environment of mutual respect, civility and

security?

GSCASH did not spring, fully formed, from the foreheads of the women and men involved in that first committee. Even though it was the first of any such committees to be established on campuses,[5] and itself has a number of firsts to its credit, as we shall see, it’s significance is precisely because it took seriously the need for a mechanism that was not merely punitive, but educative, preventive, and above all responsive. Over the last two decades, GCASH has remained alert and responsive to ever newer challenges and demands, and flexible without being brittle, while holding true to the cause of safety and security for all genders and sexualities. Above all, GSCASH itself had to maintain a process of accountability, and transparency without violating the confidence of complainants. These were extraordinarily complex issues to define, design and implement. Looking back at the milestones, rather than at a strict timeline, is therefore a more instructive exercise at this time.

Representativeness

The first challenge was to prepare a framework for addressing institutional spaces such as Universities, where everyone may not be an employee, and where many were residents. What might the rights of students, housewives, vendors, visitors be, apart from those directly employed by the University? How could they be protected? So in addition to employees and students, GSCAH (renamed GSCASH when constituted in 1999) also included “residents” and “visitors’ under its ambit. [6] By 2001 its membership was 13, with provisions for elections to eight of its posts. This democratic representativeness, i.e. election of members rather than nomination by administrative authorities, was singled out for praise by the Justice Verma Commission, as a model to be followed nationwide. [7]

Crucial to this process was the very composition of such a body. To be truly democratic but also to ensure gender justice and equality was no easy task. The body was from the first envisaged to include representatives from all levels of the university, beginning from students to karmacharis/security staff, faculty and senior administration. It also made the important suggestion that elections be held for the students, karmchari and faculty representatives, which was lauded by the Justice Verma Committee in 2013. The Chanana Committee also sought a minimum 50 percent representation for women on the ten member University body. The committee had to have in addition to the elected members, one person from an NGO, one woman academic and a counsellor.

Another challenge was to go beyond the Verma Committee, and Vishakha which was focused, quite rightly, on women, and acknowledge the possibility of harassment of other genders, while going beyond the heteronormativity to include those who were harassed for their sexual orientation.

Following the SAKSHAM guidelines forwarded by the UGC in 2015, and questions raised in the EC, a committee was formed to enquire into the compliance of GSCASH with newly framed rules and procedures. The committee broadly upheld the points at which GSCASH had gone beyond what was specified in the SAKSHAM guidelines, while introducing several important new measures to strengthen existing provisions such as the introduction of a counselling process, as distinct from the enquiry process, and also from any kind of ‘conciliation’. Another significant change was to strengthen penalties for filing complaints which would prove false [8].

Even as recently as 2016, the composition of the GSCASH was reconsidered, and suggestions made that women constitute at least 13 of 23 members, and that adequate representation of the “SC/ST/OBC/Differently abled/Third gender” also be ensured.[9] We must also note that the JNU Lawyer, Ginny Routray, then opined that although the 2013 law did not mandate election but only nomination, “GSCASH rules in its wisdom has chosen to create a pool of elected members from whom the Vice Chancellor would nominate the members for inclusion in the Inquiry committee. Therefore the guidelines for constituting of Election Committee would not contravene with [sic] any provisions of the [2013] Act…”[10] In other words, improvements to the procedures and mechanism where necessary have been periodically introduced after thorough debate and discussion until the fatal decision to supersede GSCASH was made in September 2017.

Resocialisation

Why was GSCASH hailed as something “better related to prevent harassment” by the Verma Committee? An important initial challenge was to define and publicise what is construed as sexual harassment in order to both break the silence around it and to dispel widespread ignorance about the phenomenon. How often women in particular are taught to remain silent and suffer jokes, catcalls, innuendoes, jibes, humiliations as well as unwelcome gestures, touches, assaults, and violence. How often women and men believe, due to their socialization, that such unwelcome moves are the women’s own fault for dressing, behaving, talking or simply being in particular spaces at particular times that may not meet the approval of those who hold power over them. How difficult it is for those who harass others to recognize that what they do is an exercise of power which subordinates and humiliates those at the receiving end, that one person’s pleasure could mean another person’s pain, and that it is not a right of some over others? [11] This is compounded by the problem of male defined ‘honour,’ whether of males themselves, families, or institutions which must be protected over the rights of, say, the harassed woman. How is a university to perform the critical task of sensitizing its constituent bodies into thinking differently about themselves and others?

By now it is clear that a policy against sexual harassment in the University space is nothing short of a re-socialisation of those who enter these institutions, university administrations included. It is commendable indeed that the university itself recognized this need and threw its weight behind those willing to work on an institutional mechanism to ensure such a transformation.[12] JNU went further: the University administration recognized that such a body must enjoy autonomy, if it was to perform its task of sensitizing the JNU community, mediate issues, and also conduct enquiries into specific cases of harassment through accepted procedures without fear of interference, undue pressure, or misuse of hierarchical advantages bestowed on figures of authority. This autonomy was upheld and honoured until recently.

Yet support for the GSCASH was not easy to build[13]: there was both open and concealed hostility to the provisions of the proposed Committee, to the modalities of its functioning, and in the initial phases, the inclusion of Gender Studies Forum[14] in its membership by the University (the GSF despite being included by the then Vice Chancellor, withdrew from membership in 2001)

The task of gender sensitization

Activities were organized by both the teacher representatives and student representatives and included poster making, seminars, talks, movies and discussions,[15]

First Annual Gender Sensitisation Workshop was organized under the Vice Chancellorship of

Ashis Datta in 1999-2000. By 2000, the administration agreed to make the GSCASH statement and undertaking mandatory in the service contracts of all staff and faculty; it also became part of the JNU admission brochure.[16] Freshers’ orientation courses, discussions, and pamphlets urging people to maintain a new civility (for example during the celebration of Holi, which was notoriously a time of sanctioned sexual harassment) had a salutary effect in making JNU one of the safest places for women students in the country. ‘No zone is a GSCASH free zone’ warned the poster, emphasizing how seriously complaints of harassment during such festivities would be taken.

But apart from the specific programmes that were organized, often at the start of the semester, which introduced newcomers to the JNU campus as a space where new and more equal gender relations could be built and sustained,[17] were the other forms of indirect ‘education’. In 2001 for instance, GSCASH designed a survey of Gender Sensitivity and Sexual Harassment on JNU campus. The process of administering the survey, and of reading and tabulating the responses was revelatory. The very act of being asked questions had forced some into rethinking their views, though a number of very trenchant views on the place of women in Indian society were also revealed. GSCASH had to battle the impression that it was a bunch of ‘men-haters’ or killjoys compared to the students themselves. “Some take a bee-line sans love: that’s how harassment occurs!” said one respondent, adding,” If GSCASH wants not to go defunct, it should focus on love-management.” A number of creative suggestions followed on the ways in which GSCASH could encourage healthy interactions between men and women. In some ways, this semi-facetious suggestion summed it up; nothing less than a resetting of the relationship between men and women on the campus had to take place. This was a tough task even in a place like JNU, as in the attitude revealed by a JNU resident of 7 years: “Beating wife is a family problem. How can it comes under your harassment? Some wives need sound beating. You can’t just help them.” He continued, “Women are never to be believed…particularly JNU women are pretty difficult to handle.”

Similarly, in 2014, the Democratic Student’s Front, alarmed by the University administration’s attempt to give a senior administrative post to a Professor being investigated for sexual harassment, called for a referendum on whether this did not constitute a violation of University norms. Not only was this an education in correct procedure, it was also an exemplary ‘preventive’ measure.[18]

When students came from such diverse backgrounds, and were often mired in conservative attitudes due to the socialization within families and in schools, some sought release from such suffocations (as in the first quote). The second quote shows that others sought merely a continuation of their privileges. How could JNU as an institution make all people believe that there were simply unacceptable forms of public behavior? In 2004, two of the key people behind GSCASH, Ayesha Kidwai and Madhu Sahni reflected on the five years of experience and pessimistically admitted that “Currently, the audience for most of its public activities comprises mostly of the already converted.” [19] The fact that admission to JNU and exposure to its promise of freedom did little to alter some people’s attitudes became clear in the tragic incident of July 31 2013, when a female student was attacked on her head in a classroom in the daytime with a cleaver by a male who was supposedly ‘in love’ with her; the man went on to commit suicide.[20]

Most institutions of Higher education in India tend to respond by calling for greater surveillance and securitization after such incidents. It was to the credit of the then Vice Chancellor Prof Sopory that he constituted a 10 member committee of respected teachers on the campus to produce a blue print for making the campus safe for women in particular, and all harassed minorities in general. The Ten Member Committee, after wide ranging discussions with all sections of the JNU community, submitted a comprehensive report with a series of very important suggestions[21] for making the campus a safer place for women and others. Although the will of the administration to follow through on these very practical and implementable suggestions was only negligibly evident, the July 31 2013 was a wake up call, since it also revealed dormant attitudes among teachers and students that favoured greater surveillance rather than resocialization as a whole.

Preventing Sexual Harassment

Among the many measures to prevent (further) sexual harassment was the ‘restraint order’ also a first in campus mechanisms. In a residential campus such as JNU, stalking or rumour mongering, themselves forms of sexual harassment, are not uncommon. However, in cases filed before the Internal Complaints Committee against specific cases of sexual harassment, the defendant can and did often use pressure on complainant to withdraw the case:

In many of the cases enquired into by GSCASH, it has been observed that the refusal of a complainant to withdraw the complaint invites aggravated acts of sexual harassment and intimidation. This most commonly takes the form of a sustained slander campaign, which portrays the complainant to be of dubious character and motive, whose complaint is borne out of pique rather than genuine grievance. The slander gains currency because it is always combines with a smattering of (distorted) facts. These facts are then introduced into the Enquiry proceedings as a defence for the accused. When a GSCASH Enquiry Committee shows these facts to be untrue, its findings are then portrayed as evidence of bias against the accused.” [22]

The ‘restraint order’ on a person accused of sexual harassment is a measure which intends to prevent slander and intimidation, and protects the victim during the process of the enquiry.

New technologies have also led to a proliferation of sites where sexual harassment could take place. The unprecedented growth of social media, while democratizing the use of systems of communication, also posed a threat by permitting the anonymity of ‘confessors’ and the impunity with which slanderous statements, particularly about women, could be made. In response to a site entitled ‘JNU confessions’ which was male braggadocio incarnate, and purportedly revealed details of sexual encounters on the campus, including instances of rape, GSCASH was compelled to file an FIR with the Cyber Crime cell.[23] Once more, this served more an as an education and a warning than a legal victory, alerting students to the possible consequence of such online provocations.

Grievance Redressal

Although not its only focus, the redressal of grievances through a process of enquiry is an important part of the GSCASH mechanism. The process through which cases would be filed, investigated, and heard, had been continuously evolving over the last two decades. But skepticism was expressed right from the start, which only helped to increase the accountability of GSCASH more generally. Would the new rules and procedures be ‘misused’ to file false charges against innocent members of the community? How could GSCASH protect people against this possibility? Why could the complainant and the defendant not come face to face during the enquiry? What measures could possibly take the place of such exchanges? Most important, would the recommendations of the GSCASH for punishment be implemented, reviewed, or rejected by the administration?

Although JNUTA approved the rules, and welcomed the GSCASH in 2001, the novel mechanism faced many setbacks. There was the cautionary note of the JNU lawyer Dhanda, who raised several objections: the processes of enquiry and punishment were too close to the criminal procedure and inappropriate for a domestic enquiry. How was it possible to arrive at the right admixture of rules and procedures which are not too cumbersome, how to make a body representative without being unwieldy?

The founders of GSCASH were aware of the hostilities: therefore they had to include, importantly, forms of redressal against false charges. With each set of questions, the members went back to define and more important refine the processes by which gender sensitization and grievance redressal could happen. Even so, between 1999-2001 no punishments could be implemented since the administration was unclear about the modalities of enforcing punishments: should GSCASH’s role be only to conduct the enquiry, establish culpability and suggest punishment which the administration could assess and suitably alter as it thought fit?

GSCASH had to fight fiercely to hold on to the provision in its rules which forbade face to face meetings of the complainant and alleged harasser during hearings, cautioning against the mental trauma that this could cause the complainant: instead they suggested that each party could send their representative as observer.

Without treading on the jurisdiction of the administration or bodies such as the EC, the

GSCASH also had to continuously argue for their findings to be taken seriously and implemented by the competent authority. The discretionary power of the administration, to overturn suggested punishments in the name of somebody’s academic standing (in the case of male academics) or academic future (in the case of male students) could completely undermine the purpose and process of GSCASH enquiries.

At the same time, the privacy of those who were complainants and those being investigated had to be guaranteed; this too was no easy task in a compactl residential campus such as JNU. In 2014, it was decided that each party would give an undertaking to maintain confidentiality, breach of which would itself constitute an offence.

GSCASH remained vigilant about the changes that were evident from concurrent court decisions: for instance in the light of decisions made between 2009 and 2013, changes were made to the process of cross examination, to avoid intimidation or fear of complainant and defendant.

In its annual report of 2006, GSCASH provided some comparative figures of the kinds and number of cases that had come before it. [24] Predictably, the maximum number of cases filed had been between students, with far fewer cases between students and faculty, or between other sections of the JNU community. Importantly, the report noted that ‘a brief analysis of the nature of the complaints indicates that case of lewd comments and gestures (including passing comments, singing songs, indecent exposure, touching groping, hugging kissing etc) had come down over the years, a clear indication of the effects of the work of GSCASH.’ [25] Although the number of cases filed before GSCASH had increased by 2016, there was a much wider range of cases, including those filed by males against females or against other males.

Did such a Structure deserve to be dismantled?

The brief account of GSCASH’s work over the past two decades is no unblemished success

story. But it is a narrative that has held out hope to dozens of those who have had the courage to speak out. GSCASH has, through its campaigns, surveys, referendums, its plays, movies, discussions and its posters and pamphlets ensured a campus that is unusually safe and secure in the Indian context.

The new Internal Complaints Committee with which it will be replaced undoes this long history of activism, of striving for greater levels of justice and equality to all on a campus. It decisively undermines democratic procedure by proposing nominations to all posts rather than elections, undoing precisely what has been admired and emulated. For instance, J.S. Verma, as Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission, on 25 April 2001 to discuss the Role of Universities and Educational Institutions in Implementing the Supreme Court Guidelines, state under item (5), said:

The UGC should procure from the Jawaharlal Nehru University a copy of the guidelines which they had prepared in connection with combating the problem of sexual harassment in their University and examine whether the same could be replicated in other universities as well.[26]

There was also international acclaim for GCASH: In an interaction meeting of GSCASH on 29 September 2009 with Supreme court judges of Bangladesh, Justice Syed Mahmud Hussain, Justice Qumrul Islam Siddiqui and advocate Salma Ali, the then Executive Director of Bangladesh National Women’s Lawyers Association, who authored the verdict on sexual harassment against women in workplaces in Bangladesh, emphasised that they took the JNU GSCASH model forward in order to make it a model for workplaces and universities in Bangladesh. Justice Mahmud Hussain emphatically stated that the Indian Supreme Court judgement and JNU GSCASH were the first of its kind in the subcontinent. He said JNU is a model for the universities of neighbour [SIC] countries[27]

The current JNU administration would like a collective amnesia to settle on the JNU community while they replace GSCASH with ICC. The proposed mechanism, importantly, places a great deal of emphasis on ‘conciliation’ between the parties before a more adversarial process of inquiry and possible punishment may begin. Let us listen to the words, once more, of Justice Verma Committee Report on the contradictions inherent in Conciliation:

The Committee is of the view that conciliation in cases of sexual harassment is antithetical to the intended result, inasmuch as the concept of conciliation pre-supposes the existence of a valid complaint.[28]

Our recent history shows that GSCASH has not only been adaptive but also very adept at responding positively to changes in the wider Indian setting. For instance, the post 2013 changes in GSCASH rules reflected the suggestion of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace, (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2012 and revised procedures were approved by the Executive Council in October 2015. In 2015, the university had set up a committee to review the rules and regulations of GSCASH in order to ensure its compliance with the revised notifications of the Government of India and UGC. This committee had found the GSCASH complaint with all the rules and regulations of the land.

We are in danger of losing a precious, if immaterial, heritage: of democratically derived procedures and mechanisms, which, though far from perfect, provide hope to legions of students who are sexually harassed. GSCASH has created the conditions, more importantly, for the emergence of a new and unusual civility in the JNU campus, and prevented it from being just a microcosm of the widespread misogyny and gender violence that prevails outside its walls. [29] We now know that the “dismantling” of GSCASH is an index of its success, rather than its failure.

References:

[1] Item No. 5.3/EC/18.09.2017 Adoption of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, [in response to ] University Grants Commission (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations,

2015 and Ministry of Human Resource Development Notification dated 2/5/2016.

[2] Constitution of GCASH, 2001. For instance, the term service provider had to be retained and expanded keeping in mind the contemporary needs of the campus. Minutes of meeting of Committee set up by the Vice Chancellor to look into the existing GSCASH Rules and Regulations vis à vis ‘SAKSHAM’ guidelines received, 10/7/2015.

[3] As the Justice Verma Committee Report also said, on p. 119. “We are also aware that in compliance with the judgment in Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan

1997 , universities such as the Jawaharlal Nehru University and the University of Delhi have formulated policies and constituted mechanisms to prevent and redress complaints of sexual harassment. We have taken note of the suggestion that those universities whose anti-sexual harassment policy rules and committee mechanism meet the standards of Vishakha are proposed to be exempted from the purview of the Sexual Harassment Bill, 2012, as these committees are more democratic and are better related to ensure prevention and prohibition of sexual harassment in educational institutions. We do notice that there is an anomaly in the Bill that it does not include within its ambit the students of universities, colleges or schools.

[4] Working Group on Sexual Harassment: A Plan and Institutional Mechanism to Combat Sexual Harassment on Campus, October 1997, JNU. Members included Karuna Chanana, (Chair), Sudesh Nangia, Rama Baru, Ania Loomba, Yogesh Tyagi.

[5] See E.C. Resolution, 5.5., dated 6/5/1998; . ‘JNU First Varsity to have panel against Sexual Harassment,’ Indian Express, July 26, 1999.

[6] Constitution of GSCASH, 2001.

[7] P. 119 Justice Verma Committee Report, P. 119

[8] Minutes of meeting of Committee set up by the Vice Chancellor to look into the existing GSCASH Rules and Regulations vis à vis ‘SAKSHAM’ guidelines received from UGC Meeting of the Committee 10th July 2015.

[9] No. Acad.II/U/I/(10) dated 08/04/2016; Report, 05/05/2016.

[10] Opinion, 25/05/2016, Notification, JNU Academic Branch, 8/4/2016.

[11] Ania Loomba, “Let’s Talk about Lex” The India Magazine, 1998. Loomba was a member of the Chanana Committee.

[12] See for example Circular, 25 February 1999, from office of Rector, JNU.

[13] See for instance, Ayesha Kidwai and Madhu Sahni “VISHAKA

IN JNU: THE EXPERIENCE OF GSCASH (1999-2004)’ AIDWA Quarterly Bulletin

Women’s Equality in 2004.

[14] The GSF had been active in organizing programmes for Gender Sensitisation, even as early as 1999. See Participation Certificate of student from Russian Studies, 1999.

[15] A representative though not exhaustive list would include: GSCASH Seminar, 1999-2000; [NO DATE ON PAMPHLET]; SENS Friends Rape Pamphlet [NOT SURE IF THIS IS GSCASH AND NO DATE]; GSCASH Workshop, August 12-13 2004; Fresher Welcome Pamphlet 2008; Hostel Presidents’ Meeting to discuss Hostel Nights, February 27, 2008; Poster Workshop October 7 2010; International Seminar, March 8, 2011; Seminar on Sexual Harassment in Academic Places, November 10, 2009; GSCASH student representative survey of attitudes to gender issues on campus, February 2, 2008; Confessions Page Poster, 2013-14 [NO DATE]; Holi Poster, 2013-14 [NO DATE]; Film Screening and Discussion on Gender, Masculinities and Violence, September 3, [NO YEAR};

[16] Minutes of the meeting of GSCASH with the Vice Chancellor and Rector, 22/2/2000.

[17] For instance GSCASH organized a 2 day workshop in august August 13/14 2004 which took participants through the GSCASH provisions, the meaning of sexual harassment, and steps to seek an end to harassment and also how and to whom appeal may be end to seek justice.

[18] DSF ???WAS THIS A JNUSU AND NOT A DSF REFERENDUM? UNCLEAR]

[19] Ayesha Kidwai and Madhu Sahni “VISHAKA

IN JNU: THE EXPERIENCE OF GSCASH (1999-2004)’ AIDWA Quarterly Bulletin Women’s Equality in 2004

[20] REFERENCE NEEDED

[21] LIST THE MAIN FINDINGS?

[22] Kidwai and Sahni, ‘Vishaka in Jnu’,

[23] GSCASH poster, April 2013. [NO COMPLETE DATE]

[24] GSCASH Annual Report, 2005-6, p. 15.

[25] Ibid.

[26] University of Hyderabad GSCASH: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=318315715197984&id=318232618539627

[27] GSCASH Annual Report, 2009, pp. 32-35. .

[28] Justice Verma Committee Report, p. 135

[29] The author of this note is only too aware that in February 2016 and consistently thereafter, a concerted effort has been made to undermine the considerable achievements of GSCASH and portray JNU as a sexually promiscuous university. In support of such a disinformation campaign, ironically, the fact that JNU has to its credit the maximum number of cases filed against sexual harassment has been cited as a sign of rampant promiscuity!

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