This is part 1 of a series analysing issues around sexual harassment on campus
By Devika Goswami
Content Warning – The following article contains mentions of sexual harassment
When comments calling out campus sexual harassment flooded the undergraduates Facebook group in May, my image of a “safe” Ashoka dismantled altogether. It revealed a campus safety problem that we cannot ignore anymore. Although we have CASH as a redressal mechanism, it is not considered an effective one. In my first week, it caught on faster as a joke than a viable committee. There is no purpose to having a redressal mechanism if it doesn’t work like one, and it will take both the student body and CASH to ensure that it does.
Calling Out CASH: Implementation
The facebook thread highlighted problems with CASH’s handling of past cases. For instance, some complainants recalled being forced to interact with the accused, which then led to unwarranted stress. The Edict also recently conducted a survey on CASH and sexual harassment on campus that got 42 responses. An anonymous respondent to our survey recalled having to relay private conversations with uninvolved friends as evidence. Although that can somehow be considered part of what CASH calls a “rigorous” process, the individual also did not receive any academic accommodations despite suffering from anxiety after their assault. Clearly, this is more than just an oversight from CASH’s end.
Another respondent wrote that they hadn’t received a verdict in over a year, and were told that the incident was partially their fault. Granted it is next to impossible to make a judgement without knowing the full details of these limited cases. Even so, things like accommodations, a timely verdict and basic empathy remain baseline expectations, and have been lacking from CASH’s procedure.
The Disillusionment Cycle
It’s not hard to see why students who wish to file a complaint with CASH become dissuaded from doing so. Seeing the ineffectual handling of past cases and the mental duress that may ensue as many respondents put as “harrowing process” or “tedious”, it doesn’t sound like a viable option. A respondent recalled how professor Madhavi Menon, who was on the board at the time, pointed out the heavy toll this process can take. Needless to say, when it came to it, this individual felt discouraged from filing a case—the opposite of what CASH should promote.
This creates a group of students who are abandoned by CASH. Where do these students go? They either let the issue pass or reach out to SASH, the Fem Col, friends or trusted faculty members. In either case, they are failed by the system designed to grant them justice. When asked, “Have you heard primarily positive, negative or mixed reviews of the CASH body and procedure?”, only one respondent said “positive” while the others said “negative” or “mixed”. Once again, our survey was definitely limited in numbers but it does give us a glimpse into the way CASH is perceived.
This, in effect, creates a cycle that continually alienates students from CASH. It is fuelled by the disillusionment bred from past cases, further deterring potential complaints. It is clear why any semblance of trust becomes difficult to establish when this cycle is left to fester.
CASH isn’t just a good thing, it’s a necessary thing, owing to UGC’s 2015 mandate on sexual harassment. The committee has a specified, narrow set of responsibilities. As a neutral, judicial body CASH has to maintain some distance from the student body. Hence, there is definitely a limit to how approachable or even friendly the process can be made to appear from their end.
In addition, a policy reform group is working to improve the confidentiality clause, as it is often unfair to complainants unable to freely talk about their case, even once it is over. However, the accused might email CASH to keep the case confidential. In their FAQ, CASH does recommend that neither party talk about the case. While one respondent referred to how rumours at Ashoka only identify the complainant (“oh, XYZ filed a case”) and never the accused, this unfortunately, might just be the natural consequence of CASH’s way of prioritising confidentiality.
The FAQ document CASH emailed us is clear-cut and serves as a start in fixing the information gap between students and the committee. Beyond this attempt, the onus doesn’t only lie with the student body to readily access available information, but also with CASH to generate awareness around it.
No one is obligated to file a CASH complaint, it is first and foremost a personal choice. Currently, CASH is barely a workable option given its implementation issues, while the disillusionment cycle prevents the cultivation of any trust. Breaking out of this cycle, although tough, needs willingness from both CASH and the student body to ensure against miscommunication. It seems like a lost cause, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Link to : CASH FAQs