PU’s anti-harassment panel renewed, to increase visibility
The Panjab University Committee Against Sexual Harassment (PUCASH) has been renewed and is looking to increase its visibility on campus.
The committee, which was established in 2014, is responsible for all complaints of sexual harassment made by women at workplaces within the university. Under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, the university constituted a new Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) of 12 members on 1 April 2023, which is yet to receive syndicate and senate approval. Prof Madhurima Mahajan, from the University School of Open Learning, has been appointed as the new chairperson of the committee for a two-year term.
Prof Mahajan explained that PUCASH is not only for students but also for teachers and non-teaching staff, and that anonymous complaints are not entertained. She emphasised the importance of confidentiality and privacy, stating that committee members keep the matter between themselves, and both the respondent and complainant are called for individual investigation. Punishments are decided according to service rules and may involve suspension or transfer. Prof Mahajan highlighted the lack of awareness of PUCASH among students, but plans to increase visibility through information boards and awareness programmes in hostels, departments, and student unions.
Prof Promila Pathak, from the Department of Botany, was a member of the previous PUCASH committee from October 2020 to March 2023. She emphasised that cases were dealt with as per guidelines from the University Grants Commission (UGC) and closed within the specified time period. Prof Pathak stressed the importance of desensitising committee members, raising awareness, and providing a safe space for complainants. The UGC guidelines require that yearly reports of cases be submitted to higher authorities, and each institution should have its own ICC that conducts investigations into the matter. The chairperson should be a senior female professor, and there should be equal representation of teachers, non-teaching staff, students, and someone with work experience in social causes. Prof Pathak added that accountability for cases involving male and transgender students should be added to the law itself.
Postgraduate student Harpuneet Kaur, founder of the student-run political organisation Punjab Feminist Union of Students (PFUS), questioned the absence of psychological counsellors and online complaint procedures for victims. Kaur emphasised the necessity of desensitisation and training for PUCASH committee members. She highlighted that sexual harassment can cause traumas of depression, anxiety, and stress, and that it is the responsibility of the university to provide adequate support.
Various student organisations staged a protest in the previous session against the lack of visibility and availability of PUCASH on campus. Prof Pathak denied the allegations and said that the previous committee conducted lectures within university departments and affiliated colleges. While sharing her experience, she said that committee members are not acting as judges but are dealing with both complainants and respondents carefully and acting according to witnesses and evidence. The renewed PUCASH committee and ICC will be responsible for handling sexual harassment cases at Panjab University and ensuring that the guidelines set by the UGC are followed.