Inclusive rights, inclusive protection: Sexual harassment at Universities
Updated: Jun 14
by Gatha G Namboothiri, graduate of West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences
Animation courtesy: Freepik.com
Two days ago, the Supreme Court of the United States of America, took the long awaited decision of extending civil rights at the workplace to LGTQ+ persons. During its inception, the Civil Rights Act, 1964 excluded women from its scope and until now, excluded all LGBTQ+ persons as well. Through this decision, the scope of sex-based discrimination has been extended to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexual Harassment has also been considered to be a form of sex-based discrimination since the crime itself is intrinsically linked to gender and sex. In doing so, the Supreme Court has made the Civil Rights Act, 1964, keep up with the times and include persons of any gender and sexuality.
In India as well, progress towards inclusivity has come in waves. The first step began with the Supreme Court judgment- Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, which recognised that protection against sexual harassment emanated from the right to equality for women. Through this judgement, the Supreme Court advised the Central Government to enact a legislation for the same. It took 16 years for this advice to materialise. In 2013, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act (POSH Act) came to force. It offered long overdue statutory protection to women from sexual harassment at the workplace and stipulated redressal mechanisms for the same.
The path to safer working environments for people of all gender identities had more developments to come. In the wake of the Delhi gang-rape case of December, 2012, the University Grants Commission (UGC) - a statutory body that determines the standards of university education - set up a Task Force called the SAKSHAM committee. The SAKSHAM committee was to assess and review the shortcomings of gender sensitization and redressal systems with respect to sexual harassment. The report noted with concern that -
“the weakest aspect of our institutions of higher education is their lack of gender sensitivity.”
In 2014, the Supreme court, took a leap towards inclusivity through its landmark decision in NALSA v Union of India. Through this judgement, transgender rights were finally recognized as a third gender in our nation. The judgment highlighted the severe human right violations that had become a lived reality for the community and instructed the government to make inclusive laws, sensitive to the needs of the trans-community
Following the footsteps of this progressive decision, the UGC released its Regulations, to prevent and redress sexual harassment, applicable on all higher educational institutions (HEI). These Guidelines laid down the responsibilities of all HEIs to combat sexual harassment and commit itself to a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment. Despite addressing only women it its title, the UGC Regulations ensured inclusivity by stating that Universities have a responsibility to-
“act decisively against all gender based violence perpetrated against employees and students of all sexes recognising that primarily women employees and students and some male students and students of the third gender are vulnerable to many forms of sexual harassment and humiliation and exploitation.”