A circular released by Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Internal Complaints Committee has been criticised for making women responsible for their safety when it comes to sexual harassment.
The circular was uploaded to the university’s website, notifying the students of a counselling session on sexual harassment that is scheduled to take place on January 17.
Under the subhead “why is the counselling session required?” the circular stated that students will be taught what comprises sexual harassment.
“ICC [Internal Complaints Committee] come across a number of cases where sexual harassment takes place among close friends,” it stated. “Boys generally cross [sometimes advertently, sometimes inadvertently] the thin line between friendship’s bantering and sexual harassment. Girls [are] suppos[ed] to know how to draw a tangible line [between them and their male friends] to avoid any such harassments.”
Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union President Aishe Ghosh, in a statement accessed by The Wire, said that the instruction in the circular seeks to blame the person who has been harassed.
“The ICC in JNU makes a blatant victim blaming remark where it asks ‘women to draw a tangible line to not get harassed by their male members,” she said. “The ICC time and again in JNU has passed such regressive remarks or conducted itself in a way to moral police the survivor.”
Ghosh added that the remark could foster rampant harassment and create an unsafe space for women.
Komal Singh, a researcher at the university, said that the Internal Complaints Committee was a flawed institution from its inception.
“We have seen how GSCASH [Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment] successfully made JNU one of the safest zone for womenfolk,” she said in a tweet.
Jawaharlal Nehru University replaced the Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment with the Internal Complaints Committee in 2017, News18 reported. Since then, students and teachers have called for the revival of the disbanded panel.
Meanwhile, the Internal Complaints Committee’s Presiding Officer Punam Kumari told The Indian Express said that she gets several complaints about sexual harassment between close friends.
“They touch each other, hug each other,” she said. “But the moment women feel that they don’t feel comfortable about this, they should state this clearly to their male friend.”
Kumari added that it was important for women and men to set boundaries.
“Girls also need to say it before the matter goes out of hand if they don’t like [being touched or hugged],” she said. “These things have to be conveyed clearly. Otherwise how will the person know what you want? These are small things which we will tell them about along with all the rules and regulations of ICC.”