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‘Promoting victim blaming’ — student bodies hit out at JNU panel’s notice on sexual harassment

Internal complaints committee's notice states 'girls suppose [sic] to know how to draw a tangible line (between them and their male friends) to avoid any such harassment'.

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New Delhi: A circular posted by the internal complaints committee (ICC) of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on the institution’s website has drawn flak from student groups.

The notice posted Monday states: “ICC come across a number of cases where sexual harassment takes place among close friends. Boys generally cross (sometimes advertently, sometimes inadvertently) the thin line between friendship’s bantering and sexual harassment.”

It added: “Girls suppose to know how to draw a tangible line (between them and their male friends) to avoid any such harassment [sic].”

The circular has been criticised by student bodies as promoting a culture of blaming a sexual harassment survivor for the experience.

While the aim of the circular was to inform students about monthly sessions being organised by the ICC to spread awareness on sexual harassment on the campus — and why the need for it was felt — many have called the sessions a sham.

The sessions are scheduled to commence from 17 January 2022. The circular pointed out that “though it (awareness building) is being done during the orientation program [sic], on the inception of each academic year”, it was felt that students “need to refresh their knowledge about the same from time to time”.

Also read: ‘Was a mistake’: Ex-CJI Gogoi on being on bench hearing sexual harassment case against him

‘Attitude of victim blaming’

The JNU administration had replaced the Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) with the ICC in September 2017, in its 269th executive council meeting.

Late Monday evening, JNU Students’ Union president Aishe Ghosh issued a statement accusing the ICC of promoting “victim blaming”. “This counselling session is a sham and will only lead to making JNU an unsafe space for women,” Ghosh said in a Whatsapp statement.

Her words were echoed by Madhurima Kundu, secretary, All India Students Association, JNU, who claimed the “ICC of JNU has time and again, in its reports, resorted to victim blaming and has gone on to suggest victims to take counselling sessions on gender sensitisation”.

“And now we can see that ICC is actively conducting such sessions to teach women how not to get harassed. This sham must end. ICC needs to go away. GSCASH needs to be reinstated,” Kundu said.

Meanwhile, ICC presiding officer Punam Kumari was quoted by The Indian Express as saying that girls and boys need to be vocal regarding what kind of touch makes them uncomfortable and that the counselling sessions would teach students to be more vocal.

In its circular, the ICC had hoped that with these sessions, the “number of sexual harassment cases will be reduced”, and that they would “dissipate any confusion related to sexual harassment and anyone could get answer of one’s queries related to sexual harassment”.

ThePrint tried to contact Kumari on her office landline phone, but received no response till the time of publishing this report. ThePrint also reached JNU PRO Poonam Kudaisya on phone and WhatsApp, but she refused to comment on the matter.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: Kerala’s IUML under fire for disbanding women’s wing that complained of sexual harassment 


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