New anti-harassment law leaves DU’s sexual minorities vulnerable

By Shreya Roy Chowdhury,  Times of India, Apr 1, 2015, 11.18AM IST

NEW DELHI: With the Ordinance XV-D on sexual harassment gone, sexual minorities in Delhi University have had to take a ” regressive step”. Now replaced by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, Ordinance XV-D had been, by all accounts, balanced, thorough and, perhaps most importantly, gender-neutral. Without it, the campus’ gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender students – and even boys – will have to combat sexual harassment by invoking anti-ragging rules or the code of professional ethics. Sexual harassment of these students can’t be reported as just that; the policy, apparently, doesn’t acknowledge that they can be harassed too.

Troubled by this “regressive step” – as Kirori Mal College student Aapurv Jain describes it — DU’s Gender Studies Group is launching a campaign and will petition the vice chancellor to consider adopting a different policy. “The Ordinance XV-D had been in operation for nearly 10 years and was one of the best policies in the country,” says former DU teacher — the first one to be openly gay — activist, Ashley Tellis, at a recent meeting of the GSG on the subject. Tellis had also been a part of the committee that framed Ordinance XV-D. “There was representation from all levels – from the karamcharis to faculty. It was gender-neutral.” It also came with a broad definition of harassment.

Delhi University’s executive council decided to replace the ordinance with the 2013 law in March 2014, notifying the change in June. “The law assumes men are the only perpetrators and women – presumably straight and cisgender women – their only victims,” as Jain says.

But members of the community in DU can attest to the fact that harassment by women, of LGBT students by the same sex and of boys, are all common. Tellis, who’s taught at St. Stephen’s, Kirori Mal and Ramjas, says he was “systematically harassed by students.” He had underwear and images cut out from pornographic magazines stuck on his door at one; faculty members left homophobic comments on his mail at another. He also had harassment cases filed against him — by a male and female student – but is yet to see a formal complaint or any evidence of due process being followed. Then, in 2008, the Ramjas College vice principal was accused of sexually abusing about a dozen students – all male. Jain speaks of being constantly stared at; another student talks about classmates making advances. “Men harass in groups. A transgender student attended a Delhi college for one year and faced a lot of harassment – from teachers, students and the administration,” says Jain.

Gender groups in colleges rarely talk about homosexuality. Tellis was part of Parivartan – a gender group – with another colleague at KMC. “Homosexuality was never talked about.” A lesbian student attending a women’s college says that many at her college objected to having a sexual harassment committee at all. “They asked why we need one in an all-women’s college?” Tellis also argues that LGBT students “need trained counselors.”

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