Even as NCW, which is probing Bhuj hostel case, takes serious note of Kutch colleges running on dysfunctional ICCs, district collector says fear of infamy and legal battles is leading to women seeking makeshift resolution

Call it stigma associated with sexual harassment, fear of retribution, or unwillingness to go through long legal battles, women in Kutch have not been coming forward to report harassment in educational institutions and workplaces.

National Commission for Women has taken a serious view of this lacunae and asked the district administration, police as well as colleges of Kutch University to make sure they have functional ICCs and that they spread awareness so that women can come forward to report abuse.

Mirror spoke to Kutch District Collector Praveena DK, who also functions as head of ICCs in the district. She said that during interaction with the NCW team, it was learnt that many colleges did not have functional ICCs and if they did, no complaints had ever come forward from them. Not only in colleges, the fear of filing a harassment complaint seems to be widespread in the district. Collector Praveena DK said, “Many women come to me to give oral complaints regarding harassment but nobody is willing to file a written complaint. In such cases, we try to help the woman but no action can be taken against perpetrators.”

Thus, in most cases, women suffering from harassment, sexual or otherwise, have to be transferred and must bear the brunt because of the lack of a written complaint against which an inquiry can be set up. “I do ask women to file complaints but if forced to do so, they will stop coming to me with the complaints and suffer in silence,” she rued. Before the NCW team headed by Dr Rajul Desai left for Delhi on Monday after completing their investigation in the horrifying case where 68 girls at Sahajanand Girls Institute were made to strip by authorities to check whether they were menstruating, they held a meeting with the representatives of all the 44 Kutch colleges affiliated to Krantiguru Shyamji Krishna Verma Kutch University.

No ICC in Kutch colleges; where do girls complain?

During the meeting, the NCW learnt that the varsity to which the SSGI is affiliated, does not have functioning internal complaints committee to probe sexual harassment cases. She then directed Kutch University VC Darshana Dholakia to see that the needful was carried out.

Dr Rajul L Desai, informed Mirror that she has directed principals, to constitute Internal Complaint Committees as per the provisions of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. She also advised them to organise training programme for the committee members and legal awareness programme for the members as well as for the students. In the case at hand, after investigation, Dr Desai said that the trustee of Shahajanand Girls Institute in Bhuj would give the NCW in writing that they would abolish the practice of discriminating against girls during menstruation.

Bharat Barad, Principal of Seth Surji Vallabh Arts and Commerce College in Mandvi, said, “NCW asked us to form ICC and make it function. However, at our college, we have a sanitary pad vending machine. Menstruation is good and leads to motherhood and nobody should be ashamed of it. We teach our students the same thing.”

Another principal on condition of anonymity said, “Education and awareness regarding menstruation should be given to women. Open talk shows should be held. Professionals should be hired for this purpose. Our college Mahila Cell functions according to Vishakha guidelines but we are yet to form ICC.”

Meanwhile, Rekha Sharma, the Chairperson of the NCW stated on Twitter, “My team found that students have to give consent that they will not eat food in mess and will not sleep on bed during menstruation and no one ever objected on that. Three college staffers suspended but it is not enough, all including principal must go.”

Dr Rajul Desai in a meeting with heads of colleges affiliated to Krantiguru Shyamji Krishna Verma Kutch University

Many women come to me to give oral complaint but nobody is willing to file a written complaint. We try to help the woman but no action can be taken against perpetrators.

-Praveena DK, Kutch Collector

Four accused sent to police remand

Meanwhile, all four women accused in the case – Principal Rita Raninga, Advocate Anita, college clerk Nayana and hostel rector Ramila, who were arrested by Bhuj Police on Sunday, were remanded to police custody for interrogation on Monday.PI PH Lagdhirka told Mirror, “We sought three days remand of the accused and the court granted us two days.”

The college had suspended the principal, the hostel rector and the peon. They were arrested for extortion, assault with intent to dishonour a person and criminal intimidation.

Dehumanising act: Guj mahila manch

Gujarat Mahila Manch (GMM), a women’s collective comprising rights activists and organisations, has strongly condemned the college administration’s alleged act of forcing 68 young women students to strip to prove that they were not menstruating.

It has demanded removal of the hostel warden with immediate effect and action against all those who made the statements justifying the act besides counselling of young women traumatised by the incident. The statement s signed by 1,200 citizens urges all educational institutes to take steps to create a secular and safe environment for students.

courtesy Ahmedabad Mirror