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JNU mulls harass studies
- Panel for compulsory course to sensitise students

New Delhi, Feb. 8: Every JNU student may have to study a compulsory paper aimed at “sensitising” them to sexual harassment and any form of discrimination if the university accepts a suggestion an expert panel plans to push.

If the university, which had set up the committee after a student was brutally attacked by her classmate last year, does make such a course compulsory, it would be the first time any institution in the country would have done so.

Professor Sukhadeo Thorat, who heads the panel, said the course was aimed at sensitising students on sexual harassment and discrimination based on gender, caste, religion, appearance and social and regional backgrounds.

“We will suggest making the paper compulsory for all postgraduate and research students. The academic council (of Jawaharlal Nehru University) will ultimately decide,” Thorat, chairperson of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, told The Telegraph.

The panel is set to submit its report soon.

Sources in higher education regulator UGC said if JNU implemented the proposal, it would be the first institution in the country to make such a paper compulsory. Most universities have separate courses on either women’s studies or gender issues but a compulsory paper on all forms of discrimination and sexual harassment, they said, would be unique.

JNU, one of the country’s premier universities, had set up the expert panel after the attack on July 31 last year when a student had walked into a classroom and hit a fellow student with an axe.

The boy, who had been rebuffed several times in what police said was a case of “one-sided love”, then killed himself. The girl, though seriously injured, survived.

The university also conducted a survey on gender relations. A total of 528 students — 333 women and 195 men — took part in the online survey where most said they had been sexually harassed at some point in their lives.

According to the students, sexual harassment included unwanted touching, sexually loaded or suggestive remarks, showing images of sexual nature, stalking, staring, unwanted posts about themselves on social media, unwanted proposals and use of abusive language.

Some 21 per cent said they had been abused by their partners. Among the men, the experience of abuse was more emotional than physical.

Asked how they had tackled the harassment, 107 women and 34 men said they ignored it, while 103 women and 67 men said they had protested on the spot.

According to the survey, 173 women and 57 men said they had shared their experience with someone. Thirty-four women and 29 men filed complaints.

Thorat, who was UGC chairperson till February 2011, said students also faced discrimination based on their background and appearance.

Last week, a teenage student from Arunachal Pradesh died after allegedly being beaten up by shopkeepers in Delhi following an altercation sparked by barbs at his hairstyle. Dalit and tribal students also faced harassment often, Thorat added.

P.S. Krishnan, former secretary of the National Backward Commission and an expert on reservation policies, said sensitisation on discrimination or sexual harassment would be more effective if started in schools.

“In a fractured society like ours, lessons on social and gender justice has to begin from childhood. School textbooks must have adequate content and teachers should be trained on these aspects,” Krishnan said.

A senior official with the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) said social science books had chapters on gender-related issues that have been dealt with through examples and real-life incidents.

CBSE schools and a few state boards follow NCERT textbooks.

UGC sources said the commission had notified rules last year to check any form of discrimination. Besides, all universities have been allotted funds to set up equal opportunity cells to help students from minority communities, they said.