The Governor of Bihar, Satya Pal Malik recently declared that girls who face sexual harassment at campus can now directly complain to the Raj Bhavan. According to a PTI report, the Governor who is also the chancellor of state’s universities “made the announcement in Patna at a conference organized by office bearers of students’ union of all the universities in Bihar.” He further added: “It is our Dharma to ensure that our women live with honour.”
The Governor also said that “once they receive a complaint they would provide all possible help to the victim including help with registering First Information Report.” This announcement can turn out to be an easier way for students to reach out to the higher authorities when the college fails to address their complaint.
According to UGC regulations released in 2015, all the universities and colleges are required to have an Internal Complaints Committee which would be responsible for conducting inquiries related to students, faculty and non-teaching staff.
A protest broke out at Nalanda University last year because the Vice Chancellor of the university discouraged the complainant from lodging an FIR. He had defended his actions by saying: “This is Bihar and Biharis are like that.”
Also, this is not the first time a university has mishandled a sexual harassment complaint. Earlier this year, a student who had reported that she was being sexually harassed at Daulat Ram College was pressurised by the college officials into changing her statement to “lessen the impact of the issue.”
Such instances provide a dim picture of universities and prove that they’re incapable of handling sexual harassment complaints on their own. The move by the Governor was thus applauded on this front because most ICC’s do not follow the rules provided by the UGC for electing its members. These committees often put the reputation of the college before the complainant’s. The move by the Governor can prove helpful keeping in mind such dereliction by the universities.
On the other hand, it is important to note that instead of making ICC more democratic and enabling universities and colleges to tackle such situations better, the move rather focuses on escalating the matter to higher authorities directly which will have little or no impact on the improvement of atmosphere within the college or university.
The RJD leader Tejaswi Yadav took to Twitter to bash the move. He said: “the law and order situation in Bihar has become such an embarrassment that the Governor himself has to take issues like sexual harassment into his own hands. It’s a shame.” Meanwhile, according to a report in Times of India, there has been a 50% increase in crimes related to sexual harassment on campus in the year 2017.
“If we think from a victim’s perspective, I would rather say that in the kind of conservative society that we live in, any victim would prefer to go to the college authorities, it is more comfortable and easier for them. Instead of coming up with new ways to register complaints, our ministers should focus on curbing such activities and making college bodies able enough to act on such issues,” said Aditi Singh, a student of political science at Ramjas College. The main reason why issues of sexual harassment are not handled properly, because unlike other crimes it has a patriarchal stigma attached to it.
When we hear statements like “It is our dharma that our women should live with honour,” we need to also make sure that a woman’s honour in a society should not be defined by her sexuality or sexual orientation.