September 30, 1997

The Blueprint for GSCASH: The Karuna Chanana Working Group Report

When it all began: the Karuna Chanana Working Group (Karuna Chanana, Sudesh Nangia, Ania Loomba, Rama Baru, and Yogesh Tyagi) was set up in the wake of “'the surcharged atmosphere” on campus following a host of sexual harassment events and the demands of student organisations and the Gender Studies Forum, a campus group of mostly women faculty. The Report was submitted in October 1997, but was placed before the Executive Council only in May 1998, after a great deal of community lobbying and popular mobilisation.

 

The Chanana Report makes crucial use of the 1997 Supreme Court Visakha judgement provides a plan and a framework for an institutional response in a workplace like the university, where everyone may not be an employee. It called for definingand publicising what is construed as sexual harassment/violence to dispel ignorance and to break the silence around it and to dispel ignorance.

 

The report importantly recommends the creation of an autonomous body within the university to sensitise the JNU community, to mediate crises, and also to conduct enquiries into specific cases of harassment through accepted procedures. The composition of such a body was carefully thought out to include all levels of the university, from students and karmacharis/security staff to faculty and senior administration. It also sought for a minimum 50 percent representation for women. A draft of JNU's policy on Sexual Harassment was appended.

 

The Executive Council, even as it placed or record its appreciation of the Chanana Working Group report, did not implement the specific mechanism its Report set out (link 1b). The ostensible reason for this was a UGC Circular from 1998 which recommended to universities to immediately set committees along the lines specified in the EC resolution to implement the Vishaka judgment.

 

The proposed EC mechanism was met with widespread protests. As the JNUSU undertook a protracted agitation, faculty approached the UGC. Finally, the university was persuaded to formally approach the UGC with the proposal that it be allowed to implement an alternative composition of GSCASH on 14 October 1998. The Chairperson of the UGC, Prof. Armaity Desai also replied in writing to three faculty members of the GSF stating that the UGC did not wish to insist on any particular mechanism, and that JNU was free to adopt an alternative one, as long as the Vishaka judgment was implemented.

The widespread agitation in the community and the final go-ahead from Prof. Desai gave the final push to the university administration. On March 8, 1999, the Committee was at last notified.

April 15, 1999

The 1999 GSCASH

The 8 March notification of the Committee however was not the final notified composition of the Committee in 1999, as the former did not give representation to the JNUTA and the JNUOA. These were included in the April 16 1999 notification. Furthermore, it was mutually agreed by all unions/associations on the campus that until elections could be held later that year, an interim Committee, nominated by them would hold office. This 16 April notification announces the membership of the first Committee, which was then abbreviated as GSCH. It also expanded the membership of GSCASH from what was originally notified on 8 March 1999, to include representatives of JNUTA and JNUSA.

 

On 23 April, the GSCASH met for the first time and set up subcommittee to draft a constitution in consultation with Prof. Lotika Sarkar. The GSCASH Constitution, adopted on May 13 1999, provides the first outline of how GSCASH would be constituted, what its responsibilities are, and what  the modalities of grievance redressal require. It also outlines the responsibilities of GSCASH towards all sections of the JNU community. Many of the ideas fleshed out in later versions of the Rules — such as the order of restraint, no face to face confrontation of parties, no Union representatives’ involvement in inquiries, specifying transparent rules — originate in this Constitution

September 27, 2001

JNU Executive Council approval in principle

The initial period of the GSCASH was marked by a great degree of hostility between the JNU administration and the GSCASH. Not one of the GSCASH recommendations for punitive action were implemented, on the grounds that its inquiry procedures were infirm. Rather than securing the GSCASH legal help to frame Rules of inquiry and other procedure, university administrators put the onus on the GSCASH to do so. Finally, in the last quarter of 2000, the GSCASH decided to embrace this challenge.

The fledgling GSCASH faced up to the challenge of drafting its rules of inquiry using the only two instruments it had — the support from the women’s movement outside and the JNU community. Without any precursor or model, missing basic resources like legal literacy and experience at an administrative level, the GSCASH was nevertheless determined to frame Rules that met the highest standards of a gender sensitive inquiry process aimed at redressal as much as at punitive action. To bring this to pass, the GSCASH approached Advocate Vrinda Grover, who displayed the generosity and commitment that she is now known for, in abundance. An initial draft that emerged from Vrinda Grover and Ayesha Kidwai’s efforts, and this was placed at a public meeting for discussion. The intensity of the JNU community’s engagement with each and every clause is shown by the extensive notes taken by Ritoo Jerath of the Gender Studies Forum on the first draft.

Another version of the GSCASH Rules was then prepared incorporating amendments suggested in the previous meeting. Concomitant with various other changes that made the GSCASH Rules more democratic and transparent, there is also the addition of a provision for false complaint, as demanded by sections of the community.

Finally, on September 28, 200, the JNU Executive Council, vide Resolution 6.7, approved the GSCASH Rules & Procedures in principle, While this resolution conferred some legitimacy to GSCASH, it did not give it the the required autonomy, because it authorized the Vice Chancellor to amend the GSCASH Rules in consultation with legal advice, the Deans and Chairpersons; (in short everyone, but not GSCASH).

February 05, 2002

Incorporating 'natural justice' : A journey in revisions

Pressure from GSCASH and the JNU community in the wake of the EC Resolution led to a quick revision of the Rules by a committee that included GSCASH Chair Rupamanjari Ghosh and Ayesha Kidwai, on the basis of the JNU legal counsel. One version was approved on October 12, 2001. This draft that was circulated to unions and associations in October 2001, and approval obtained. In the course of this circulation, objections to the membership of the Gender Studies Forum on GSCASH were raised from more than one quarter. As the decision to include the GSF had not been taken in consultation with it, and because it was anxious to ensure that its membership in the GSCASH did not become the cause/pretext of the non-ratification of its Rules, the GSF resigned from the GSCASH. 

Hardly had the various unions and associations completed the process of communicating their consent to the GSCASH Rules, the legal opinion on the GSCASH Rules of the JNU senior counsel arrived.  This opinion revised the legal opinion tendered less than a month earlier and holds that the Rules provide too cumbersome a framework, that is not only not in accordance with natural justice, it is also too close in nature to a criminal trial. 

 

Although this volte face by the JNU lawyer stung many as a betrayal at the time, this opinion had a far-reaching effect in terms of the development of the rules and of bringing into focus the two ruling contradictions that the GSCASH movement had to address. The first was that while the Rules had thus far been propelled by a desire to give birth to a gender-sensitive inquiry process which protected the complainant, this quest had to be balanced with the guarantee of principles of natural justice vis-à-vis the respondent. The second was that the domestic inquiry model was fundamentally unsuited for the alternative dispute resolution system that GSCASH embodied, in which the objective was as much redressal and reform as penalty.

The GSCASH response dated 6 February 2002 to Mr. Dhanda’s opinion, submitted by Rupamanjari Ghosh, addresses most of the issues raised through explanations as to why the GSCASH thinks its procedures to be necessary. One issue that remained outstanding was the extent to which the domestic inquiry model could be imported into the sexual harassment investigation. If the parties to the dispute do not have the right to be present at the time of examination of the opposing side’s witnesses, and to conduct cross-examination in person, could the inquiry be above reproach? 

 

The GSCASH's concern about allowing the presence of parties in the recording of depositions and in cross-examination was due to the nature of the grievance that sexual harassment constitutes, in which confrontation of parties can cause trauma to the survivors, and turn an inquiry proceedings into a site of further harassment and intimidation. However, given the context of two major complaints against employees, the GSCASH felt impelled to accommodate this basic guarantee. Clause 21 (iii)(q) was thus added in a late 2002 version of the Rules, to allow for a nominee of the opposing party to be present in the examination of witnesses, and face to face cross-examination.

June 01, 2005

Backlash, and the Fightback! The GSCASH Rules based on the Ashok Mathur Committee Report

For close to two years, GSCASH and the JNU community had been pressing for the ratification of the GSCASH Rules as finalised in 2002, when the Executive Council, vide Resolution 6.8, brought into effect a set of Rules that elicited scathing condemnation from most of the JNU community. This version of the Rules indicates a rising panic at the revolution in institutional culture that GSCASH had introduced.

The Vishaka Complaints Committee was a committee that had to be 50% woman and headed by a woman, i.e. was an institutional body whose membership was defined not by familiar criteria of seniority, subject area/expertise, but by considerations of equality of gender representation. The GSCASH took this equality to another level, by insisting that the Committee’s representativeness must not be limited to only gender but also to institutional role, i.e. it must include students, staff, officers as well as teachers. The Ashok Mathur Report represented the opinions of those who viewed with some anxiety, the cross-sectional gender solidarity that GSCASH had already engendered. In this imagination, the GSCASH is seen as a site for a war of the sexes in which women have the upper hand. The Rules of GSCASH are. imagined, in this version, the administration’s instrument to constrain this allegedly inherent bias of the committee.

Also seen in the Ashok Mathur Rules is a moral panic, because the Rules warn darkly of “sexually deviant behaviour” in the JNU hostels, and require the GSCASH to investigate such incidents suo moto. The reference here is, in all likelihood, to the first LGBTQ students’ group ‘Anjuman’, just two years prior. 

The Ashok Mathur Rules were roundly rejected by the entire JNU community. Whereas earlier the mainstay of resistance to the dilution of GSCASH had been the JNUSU — a role that it continued to play even in this protest — this time around JNUTA (with Rupamanjari Ghosh as its President) also stood up in support of GSCASH unequivocally from the very beginning. Signature campaigns, individual notes by groups of teachers as well as individual faculty enabled the JNUTA to not only propose amendments to the GSCASH Rules, but also to pressure the university to officially take cognisance of the need to restore the 2002 GSCASH Rules.

April 10, 2007

Restoration of the GSCASH Rules by JNU Executive Council Resolution 6.14

The JNU community's sustained protests succeeded in winning a committee appointed by the VC to collate responses and redraft the 2005 Rules, with Rupamanjari Ghosh as chair. After widespread consultation on the issue, the Committee submitted its report (which effectively undid the Ashok Mathur amendments) on 5 May 2006. The University counsel objected to these Rules as usual, on principally the lack of a procedure for cross examination. Nevertheless, this time around, this critique did not have its usual paralytic effect on the ratification front. Notwithstanding Mr. Dhanda’s objections, the JNU EC gave unqualified approval to the GSCASH Rules and Procedures on 11 April 2007 (Resolution no. 6.14). Additional clauses spelling out the procedure for cross examination and their legal sanction were approved by the Executive Council on the GSCASH request on 11.02.2013.

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This, as yet extremely partial, archive of document pertaining to the GSCASH Rules and Procedures is a story of the determination of the GSCASH movement to confront and address both an institutional hostility and suspicion with the brief of gender sensitisation and formal redressal as well as the genuine challenge of ensuring due process and natural justice. The GSCASH Archive would like to make this archive as exhaustive as possible, particularly with inputs from the various Unions and Associations on the issue of GSCASH Rules, and we invite submissions. (The story that is told in this initial version has been constructed through the memories and archives of Ritoo Jerath, Ayesha Kidwai, Angelie Multani, and Madhu Sahni.)