A look at the measures taken by colleges to protect female students from harassment

With the issue of women’s safety becoming a hotly debated topic, the importance of providing a safe environment for female students also gains prominence. The University Grants Commission (UGC) task force’s report on the security measures in educational institutions, ‘Saksham’, was released in February and it suggests basic infrastructure requirements to be included such as lighting and public transport, while also recommending counselling services and gender sensitisation. It also talks about an essential gender audit component as a part of the evaluation process.

But have the safety measures been set up at educational institutions in the State?

“We do not impose any strict or specific rules on the students. Only if there is a cause of action will there be a reaction from our side,” says the Principal of BMS College of Engineering, Mallikharjuna Babu K. “We do, however, have an Anti-Sexual Harassment Committee that is lead by the seniormost woman teacher of our college. They set the guidelines for preventing cases like sexual harassment and ragging. We try our best not to abet such cases, for example, by making sure that there are no night shifts and even ensuring that students do not have a chance of interacting privately in closed rooms.”

No dress code

M.S. Suresh, Principal of BNM Institute of Technology, feels the same. “Even though the number of women is much greater than the number of men in our college, we have not imposed any strict rules for preventing sexual harassment. There is also no strict dress code as such. We only tell the students to come formally dressed and in case they do not abide by this rule, we simply send them back at the gate itself.” The college also has a complaint forum called the Committee for Prevention of Sexual Harassment.

Both college managements claimed there have been no reports of sexual harassment till date.

Some colleges, however, feel that prevention is better than cure. “We have a separate class for educating the students about topics like prevention of sexual harassment. We also have an Anti-Sexual Harassment Committee and a Grievance Redressal Council that deals with such issues and meets every six months whether or not we have a case. We also have an ombudsman, a neutral third party who is no less than the rank of a High Court Judge, to deal with such issues,” says the Registrar of PES Institute of Technology, V. Krishnamurthy.

The college has also imposed a rule wherein the girls are not supposed to stay on campus after six in the evening. There is a strict prohibition on any form of physical contact, apart from handshakes, between boys and girls. “There have been a few cases till now, but thankfully none of them have been so serious that it had to be taken to a higher authority; it was dealt with by the lower authorities itself,” he says.

Leelavathi, Principal of National Degree College, strongly opposes the concept of a dress code. “I really do not see the need for it. There are hundreds of cases where women are appropriately dressed or are sometimes covered from head to toe. But that hasn’t stopped men from raping them. I think it is all in the mindset of the people. We have a Women’s Grievance Cell in our college that consists of five women lecturers and they deal with the various problems faced by the female students of our college. We also organise special lectures where we talk about gender equality and overcoming gender discrimination. Both boys and girls attend this class. Sometimes, I take some time off to take these classes myself because I feel it is important for students to understand and implement these concepts.”

Some colleges have specifically appointed psychologists to help the students. Jain College, Jayanagar, for example, has a programme called JU Vishwas wherein a Women’s Cell is set up and is headed by a professional psychologist who helps deal with various problems of the girl students like trauma, abuse or eve-teasing.

Regular meetings

“We have regular parent-teacher meetings and duly inform the parents about the unruly behaviour of their wards. This is especially important for students who are not from the State. In case we cannot meet the parents immediately, we send them messages regarding this. We have installed cameras to make sure that there is no physical contact between the students and we do not have any dress code; we just advise the girls not to wear dresses that are revealing,” says Easwaran Iyer, Dean and Director of the college.

KIMS College has a separate psychiatry department to deal with such issues. “In addition, we have a Gender Harassment Committee, which is a complaint forum and also follow the guidelines imposed by the National Committee. The hostel timings are the same for both girls and boys; we do not give any special preference to any gender,” says H.H. Sudhakar, Professor & HOD, Department of Physiology, and Student Welfare Officer.

Students’ perspective

When questioned about the effectiveness of such rules, Ashwin S., a student from University Law College, said, “We don’t have any strict rules to prevent sexual harassment, but the guidelines and sanctions that are imposed for ragging prevent such cases from taking place. I agree with these rules only to the extent that they are utilised properly. I have personally come across many cases where the girl has taken full advantage of such rules and the boy has been found guilty.”

“I don’t agree with the concept of closing down girls’ hostels earlier than the boys’ hostels. Who says boys can’t be ragged or sexually harassed? This special preference that is given to them in highly unfair and I feel the system has to be changed,” says Nikita K. from Jain College, Jayanagar.

A student of Dayanand Sagar College, who did not wish to be named, said, “We do have a dress code like no sleeveless tops or no wearing shorts and I personally feel this is essential. These rules are simple and practical; for example, all girls have to be in their hostels by 8 p.m. It’s practical because with the recent cases, it is obviously a proof that girls are more vulnerable to sexual harassment and these rules are made based on the cases; they are made with a good intention — to protect us women.”