Behind the Guise of ‘Guru’: Sexual Harassment Against Students

By Anonymous

Editor’s Note: Gurus, or teachers have always been thought of as the most noble, most selfless beings. They have always been thought of as the candle that burns itself to provide light to its students.  In the recent times, teachers have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. It is disheartening to see teachers flash in the news every now and then for the most heinous of crimes, such as sexual assault and rape. This paper seeks to examine sexual harassment in the context of educational institutions and any safeguards formulated to prevent such atrocities.

Abstract

 

The Indian society has elevated the teacher as ‘Guru Brahma, Gurur Vishnu Guru Devo Maheshwaraha. As Brahma, the teacher creates knowledge, learning, wisdom and also creates out of his students, men and women, equipped with ability and knowledge, discipline and intellectualism to enable them to face the challenges of their lives. As Vishnu, the teacher is preserver of learning. As Maheswara, he destroys ignorance. Obviously, therefore, the teacher was placed on the pedestal below the parents. The State has taken care of service conditions of the teacher and he owes dual fundamental duties to himself and to the society.

So, in a country where Gurus (read teachers) are given the Godly status of Vishnu and Brahma, it can be nothing less than disturbing to come cross numerous such news reports appearing on regular basis about they causing something as heinous as ‘sexual harassment’ to their students. The rise in number of such inhuman practices being regularly reported over these years has led to a drastic change of mind set. The profession of imparting knowledge no longer commands the respect and divinity which it used to until recently.

This paper seeks to point out the menace of sexual harassment being committed by the teachers upon their students and suggests measures to curb it.

Introduction

In a country where Gurus (read teachers) are given the Godly status of Vishnu and Brahma, it can be nothing less than disturbing to come cross numerous such news reports appearing on regular basis about they causing something as heinous as ‘sexual harassment’ to their students. It has been a part of long practised Indian tradition of parents submitting their child to the teacher for the overall value based education of their child. But the rise in number of such inhuman practices being regularly reported over these years has led to a drastic change of mind set. The profession of imparting knowledge no longer commands the respect and divinity which it used to until recently.

These incidences of “sexual harassment of students’’ for a long time were ignored because of the fact that people attributed them as minor aberrations and didn’t see it becoming a nationwide trend and some, despite having known or personally suffered of such incidences consciously chose to keep quiet. But the reportage of such instances on regular basis has in turn, shaken everyone from students to teachers into accepting the fact that sexual harassment is in fact, a common feature on education campuses.

A recent study in United States conducted by American Association of University Women, a non-profit research organization points out that Nearly half of 7th to 12th graders experienced sexual harassment in the year 2010-11, Over all, girls reported being harassed more than boys — 56 per cent compared with 40 per cent[i]. Although there has been no such study conducted in Indian schools till yet, the figures are expected to be somewhat similar in India also.

The state is already worried about the poor female-student attendance in Indian schools and if such evils are not checked, the situation is likely to worsen, particularly in rural India, where the govt. is constantly making efforts to convince families to send their girl child for formal education. The fact remains that Education to the girl children is nation’s asset and foundation for fertile human resources and disciplined family management, apart from their equal participation in socio-economic and political democracy.

Sexual Harassment: Meaning

Originally coined in reference to behaviour in the workplace[ii], the term sexual harassment also refers to unwanted sexual conduct at educational institutions. In the school setting, sexual harassment includes unwanted sexual behaviour that interferes with a student’s educational opportunities. Sexual harassment is bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours.[iii] In most modern legal contexts, sexual harassment is illegal. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. It includes a range of actions from mild transgressions to sexual abuse or sexual assault.[iv] Sexual harassment at school can include making verbal or written comments, making gestures, displaying pictures or images, using physical coercion, or any combination of these actions. It can take place in person or through electronic means such as text messages and social media. School staff, teachers and even peers they all can be harassers[v].

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights defines it as, “Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, or other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Thus, sexual harassment prohibited by Title IX can include conduct such as touching of a sexual nature; making sexual comments, jokes, or gestures; writing graffiti or displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures, or written materials; calling students sexually charged names; spreading sexual rumours; rating students on sexual activity or performance; or circulating, showing, or creating e-mails or Web sites of a sexual nature.”

It further classified sexual harassments in two categories the first is Quid pro quo sexual harassment, where a favour to student can be directly linked to a sexual favour in return. The second category is Hostile environment sexual harassment, in this category of harassment victim is subjected to comments of a sexual nature, unwelcome physical contact, or offensive sexual materials etc. as a regular part of the work environment

Types of Sexual  Harassment [vi]

  1. Gender Harassment: Statements of sexual nature in general and behaviour that convey insulting or degrading attitudes about women. For e.g., offensive graffiti, insulting remarks, obscene jokes or humour about sex or women in general.
  2. Seductive Behaviour: Sexual advances, which is unwanted, inappropriate and offensive. Examples include repeated unwanted sexual invitations, insistent requests for dinner, drinks or dates, persistent letters, phone calls and other invitations.
  3. Sexual Bribery: Solicitation of sexual activity or other sex-linked behaviour by promise of reward; the proposition may be either overt or subtle.
  4. Sexual Coercion: Coercion of sexual activity or other sex-linked behaviour by threat of punishment; examples include negative performance evaluations, withholding of promotions, threat of termination.
  5. Sexual Imposition: Gross sexual imposition (such as forceful touching, feeling, grabbing) or sexual assault.

Of these five types of behaviour, gender harassment is by far the most common, followed by seductive behaviour. The “classic” forms of sexual harassment (bribery and coercion) are in fact relatively uncommon, while other forms of sexual imposition happen more frequently than most people think.

The defining characteristic of sexual harassment is that it is unwanted. It’s important to clearly let an offender know that certain actions are unwelcome.

Common Incidents of Sexual Harassment Reported by Students [vii]

  • Making sexual comments, jokes, gestures, or looks
  • Showing, giving, or leaving sexual pictures, photographs, illustrations, messages, or notes
  • Writing messages/graffiti of sexual nature about someone on bathroom walls, in locker rooms, etc.
  • Spreading rumours of sexual nature about someone
  • Questioning sexual orientation of someone
  • Voyeurism
  • Flashing or “mooning”
  • Touching, grabbing, or pinching someone in a sexual manner
  • Brushing up intentionally in a sexual way
  • Pulling at someone’s clothing in a sexual way
  • Pulling off or down someone’s clothing
  • Blocking or cornering someone’s in a sexual way
  • Forcing someone to kiss him/her
  • Forcing someone to do something sexual other than kissing
  • MYTH: Sexual harassment is rare.
    FACT: Sexual harassment is extremely widespread. It touches the lives of 40 to 60 per cent of working women, and similar proportions of female students in colleges and universities, even the male students are equally suffering.
  • MYTH:The seriousness of sexual harassment has been exaggerated; most so-called harassment is really trivial and harmless flirtation.
    FACT: Sexual harassment can be devastating. Studies indicate that most harassment has nothing to do with “flirtation: or sincere sexual or social interest. Rather, it is offensive, often frightening and insulting to victims. Research shows that victims are often forced to leave school or jobs to avoid harassment; may experiences serious psychological and health-related problems.
  • MYTH: Many a time victims make up and report stories of sexual harassment to get back at their employers, teachers or others who have angered them.
    FACT: Research shows that less than one per cent of complaints are false. General trend is that the victim rarely file complaints even when they’re are justified in doing so.
  • MYTH:Women who are sexually harassed generally provoke harassment by the way they look, dress and behave.
    FACT: Harassment does not occur because women dress provocatively or initiate sexual activity in the hope of getting promoted and advancing their careers. Studies have found that victims of sexual harassment vary in physical appearance, type of dress, age, and behaviour. The only thing they have in common is that over 99% of them are female.
  • MYTH:If one ignores harassment, it will go away.
    FACT: It will not. Research has shown that simply ignoring the behaviour is ineffective; harassers generally will not stop on their own. Ignoring such behaviour may even be seen as agreement or encouragement.

Sexual Harassment: Myths and Realities[viii]

  • MYTH: Sexual harassment is rare.
    FACT: Sexual harassment is extremely widespread. It touches the lives of 40 to 60 per cent of working women, and similar proportions of female students in colleges and universities, even the male students are equally suffering.
  • MYTH:The seriousness of sexual harassment has been exaggerated; most so-called harassment is really trivial and harmless flirtation.
    FACT: Sexual harassment can be devastating. Studies indicate that most harassment has nothing to do with “flirtation: or sincere sexual or social interest. Rather, it is offensive, often frightening and insulting to victims. Research shows that victims are often forced to leave school or jobs to avoid harassment; may experiences serious psychological and health-related problems.
  • MYTH: Many a time victims make up and report stories of sexual harassment to get back at their employers, teachers or others who have angered them.
    FACT: Research shows that less than one per cent of complaints are false. General trend is that the victim rarely file complaints even when they’re are justified in doing so.
  • MYTH:Women who are sexually harassed generally provoke harassment by the way they look, dress and behave.
    FACT: Harassment does not occur because women dress provocatively or initiate sexual activity in the hope of getting promoted and advancing their careers. Studies have found that victims of sexual harassment vary in physical appearance, type of dress, age, and behaviour. The only thing they have in common is that over 99% of them are female.
  • MYTH:If one ignores harassment, it will go away.
    FACT: It will not. Research has shown that simply ignoring the behaviour is ineffective; harassers generally will not stop on their own. Ignoring such behaviour may even be seen as agreement or encouragement.

Effects of Sexual Harassment[ix]

Being sexually harassed can devastate someone’s psychological health, physical well-being and vocational development. Students who have been harassed often change their, career goals, job assignments, educational programs or academic majors. In addition, students have reported psychological and physical reaction to being harassed that is similar to reactions to other forms of stress. They include:

Psychological Reactions

  • Depression, anxiety, shock, denial
  • Anger, fear, frustration, irritability
  • Insecurity, embarrassment, feelings of betrayal Confusion, feelings of being powerless Shame, self-consciousness, low self-esteem
  • Guilt, self-blame, isolation
  • Headaches
  • Lethargy
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Dermatological reactions
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Sleep Disturbances, nightmares
  • Phobias, panic reactions
  • Sexual problems

Physiological Reactions

  • Headaches
  • Lethargy
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Dermatological reactions
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Sleep Disturbances, nightmares
  • Phobias, panic reactions
  • Sexual problems

Career-Related Effects

  • Unfavourable performance evaluations
  • Drop in academic or work performance due to stress
  • Absenteeism
  • Withdrawal from work or school
  • Change in career goals

Some Decided Cases

In Avinash Nagra v. Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti and Ors.[x] the accused was alleged to have committed misconduct (of a sexual nature) on his student and subsequently got terminated from his job. On appeal in the Apex court for his right to cross-examine witness, the Supreme Court while denying him this right held that when the society has given such a pedestal, the conduct, character, ability and disposition of a teacher should be to transform the student into a disciplined citizen, inquisitive to learn, intellectual to pursue in any walk of life with dedication, discipline and devotion with an inquiring mind but not with blind customary beliefs. The education that is imparted by the teacher determines the level of the student for the development, prosperity and welfare of the society. The quality, competence and character of the teacher are, therefore, most significant to mould the calibre, character and capacity of the students for successful working of democratic institutions and to sustain them in their later years of life as a responsible citizen in different responsibilities. Without a dedicated and disciplined teacher, even the best education system is bound to fail. It is, therefore, the duty of the teacher to take such care of the pupils as a careful parent would take of its children and the ordinary principle of vicarious liability would apply where negligence is that of a teacher.

The conduct of the accused was held to be unbecoming of a teacher much less a loco parentis and, therefore, dispensing with regular enquiry under the rules and denial of cross-examination were held to be legal and not vitiated by violation of the principles of natural justice.

In Govt. of NCT of Delhi and Ors. v. Naresh Kumar Kataria[xi] where the accused was a vocational teacher who was alleged to have sexually harassed his students, his termination was held perfectly valid by the Delhi High Court, even though he was not granted his right to cross examine witness.

In Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools[xii], the U.S. Supreme Court while declaring sexual harassment of students as a very severe offence held that private citizens could collect damage awards when teachers sexually harassed their students.

In Kishor Guleria v. The Director of Education and Ors.[xiii] the accused who was a Physical Education Teacher was alleged to have physically assaulted some students and in particular this amounted to physical assault of a sexual nature where he made physical contact to some girl students. The Delhi High Court while rejecting the claim of petitioner (the accused) held the decision of Disciplinary committee and Delhi School Tribunal, to terminate the accused of his services as perfectly valid.

The High Court while pronouncing the Judgement cited provisions of United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 (to which India is a signatory), relating to prevention of physical and sexual abuse of Children, in particular Article 19 of the convention[xiv] which reads as follows:

In a recent case of Dr. B.N.Ray v. Ramjas College & Ors.,[xv] the petitioner was teaching in Ramjas College of Delhi University and subsequently took over charge as its Vice-Principal in 2007. Four male students of the College submitted complaints alleging sexual harassment at the hands of the petitioner, to the College Complaints Committee. The petitioner’s claim that the provisions of the said ordinance were not applicable to male students was turned down. Also, the court held that it would thus be seen that the Ordinance included, in its ambit, all complaints of sexual harassment made by “a member of the University” against any other “member of the University”. It is not restricted to the complaints made by a female member of the University. Member of the University has been defined to include students as well as teaching staff. A Student can be a male as well as a female.

 

SexualHarassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal)Act, 2013 and Students

Section 2(o)[xvi] of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition And Redressal) Act, 2013, where the term “workplace” is defined includes all sorts of education institution as well. That means the provisions of this act would apply to all educational institutions in totality. Section 2(a)[xvii] defines “aggrieved woman” in relation to a workplace– a woman, of any age whether employed or not, who alleges to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment by the respondent.

Thus aggrieved female students under Section 9 of the act will now have a right to complain and seek remedy under this new act.

Remedy Under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013

An aggrieved woman can also seek remedy under the Indian Penal Code. Section 354A in the amended act while listing certain acts as Sexually Harassing provides for the punishment when such acts are committed. Section 354A reads as under:

Section: 354A.

(1) A man committing any of the following acts—

(i) physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual

overtures; or

(ii) a demand or request for sexual favours; or

(iii) showing pornography against the will of a woman; or

(iv) making sexually coloured remarks,

shall be guilty of the offence of sexual harassment.

(2) Any man who commits the offence specified in clause (i) or clause (ii) or

Clause (iii) of sub-section (1) shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term

which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

(3) Any man who commits the offence specified in clause (iv) of sub-section (1)

Shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend

to one year, or with fine, or with both.

Measures Which can be Taken to Curb this Menace

  • Change in the mind set: First and foremost thing which needs to be done is a “change” in the mind set and this change is required at multiple level. Parents should stop doubting their child and they must stop having blind faith on someone.
  • Making students aware about the acts which qualify as sexually harassing: many a times it has been observed that those who are at the suffering end do not even know that they are being sexually exploited. This is more of a problem in junior schools. Parents and school authorities are required open up to them so as to make them aware about these types of acts and children should be trained to raise an alarm when someone is doing such act.
  • Sensitization of teachers: there should be sensitizing programmes held by the institutions at regular basis. For a long this menace has been ignored but now when it has been accepted as a trend, such sensitization needs to take place in order to make people self-restrain themselves.
  • Grievance Redressal forums: there should be such committee established by the institutions where an aggrieved person can go and report such acts and with the guarantee that their identity is not disclosed.
  • Encouraging students to speak up: this is a very major problem, people despite being at suffering hand choose to keep quiet and they have their own reasons for that, but like this, the problem cannot be solved. The need of the hour is the reporting of such incidents on immediate basis, students need to speak up.

Conclusion

According to Dr S. Radhakrishnan[xviii], the success of the educational process depends considerably on the teacher, for it is the teacher who has to implant aims, and to build the character of the students. According to Laski, at end of education, the quality of a university is always in direct proportion to the quality of its teacher. A good teacher is one who knows his subject, is enthusiastic about it and one who never ceases to learn. Communication with the students and sense of commitment to his work are necessary. A good teacher, therefore, according to Dr. Radhakrishnan, is one who is objective, just, humble and is open to correction. According to Whitehead, the teacher must be a self-confident learned man. The teacher, therefore, is primary functionary to transmit the intellectual and ethical value to the young. He should encourage the attitude to free enquiry and rational reflections. The teacher should try to remove the leaden weights of pride and prejudice, passion and desire which are likely to cloud a student’s vision. The devoted teacher is not only concerned with the child’s intellectual development but also has the obligation to attend to his moral, emotional and social growth as well.

The Indian society has elevated the teacher as ‘Guru Brahma, Gurur Vishnu Guru Devo Maheshwaraha’. As Brahma, the teacher creates knowledge, learning, wisdom and also creates out of his students, men and women, equipped with ability and knowledge, discipline and intellectualism to enable them to face the challenges of their lives. As Vishnu, the teacher is preserver of learning. As Maheswara, he destroys ignorance. Obviously, therefore, the teacher was placed on the pedestal below the parents. The State has taken care of service conditions of the teacher and he owes dual fundamental duties to himself and to the society. As a member of the noble teaching profession and a citizen of India he should always be willing, self-disciplined, dedicated with integrity to remain ever a learner of knowledge, intelligently to articulate and communicate and imbibe in his students, as social duty, to impart education, to bring them up with discipline, inculcate to abjure violence and to develop scientific temper with a spirit of enquiry and reform constantly to rise to higher levels in any walk of life.

Therefore, when the society has given such a pedestal, the conduct, character, ability and disposition of a teacher should be to transform the student into a disciplined citizen, inquisitive to learn, intellectual to pursue in any walk of life with dedication, discipline and devotion with an inquiring mind but not with blind customary beliefs. The education that is imparted by the teacher determines the level of the student for the development, prosperity and welfare of the society. The quality, competence and character of the teacher are, therefore, most significant to mould the calibre, character and capacity of the students for successful working of democratic institutions and to sustain them in their later years of life as a responsible citizen in different responsibilities. Without a dedicated and disciplined teacher, even the best education system is bound to fail. It is, therefore, the duty of the teacher to take such care of the pupils as a careful parent would take of its children and the ordinary principle of vicarious liability would apply where negligence is that of a teacher.[xix]

The rise in number of such cases has been the major catalyst in the evolving relations between teachers and students in India. While one hand we need to introspect upon our cultural and moral values, in order to control if not eliminate such social aberrations and on the other hand the state should strengthen its machineries and be equipped to deal with such social evils. One such positive step was keeping ‘educational institutions’ within the ambit of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. While the female students subject to proper implementation of the provisions of this act can feel some sense of security, their male counterparts still remain exposed to this evil.

Since this menace is not gender specific, the vulnerability of male students to sexual harassment by teachers also needs to be considered upon because the study suggests they don’t lack far behind, when compared to their female counterpart.

Edited By Drishti Das

[i] JENNY ANDERSON, National Study Finds Widespread Sexual Harassment of Students in Grades 7 to 12, The New York Times , November 7, 2011

url http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/07/education/widespread-sexual-harassment-in-grades-7-to-12-found-in-study.html last visited on October 15th, 2013

[ii] Catharine A. MacKinnon, Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination

[iii]  Paludi, Michele Antoinette; Barickman, (1991). Academic and Workplace Sexual Harassment. SUNY Press. pp. 2–5.

[iv] Dziech, Billie Wright; Weiner, Linda. The Lecherous Professor: Sexual Harassment on Campus.Chicago Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0-8070-3100-1; Boland, 2002

[v] McCarthy, M. Eckes, S. (2005), Sexual harassment in academe: An overview of the legal standards. Contemporary Issues in Higher Education, Education Law Association, 277-295.

[vi] Richard L Wiener and  Barbara A Gutek , Advances in Sexual Harassment Research, Theory, and Policy, Sexual Harassment Psychology, Public Policy, and Law at Pages 507–518

[vii] American Association of University Women. (1993). Hostile hallways: The AAUW survey on sexual harassment in America’s schools. Washington, DC: Author.

[viii] Richard L. Wiener and Barbara Gutek, Sexual Harassment: Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Vol. 5, No. 3, September 1999

 

[ix] Supra 4

[x] (1997) 2 SCC 534

[xi] 199 (2013) DLT 613

[xii] 503 U.S. 60 (1992

[xiii] 195 (2012 )DLT 189

[xiv] United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child: Article 19,

  1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.
  2. Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programmes to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement.

[xv] 2012 (130) DRJ 277

[xvi] Section 2(o) “workplace” includes–

(i) any department, organisation, undertaking, establishment, enterprise, institution, office, branch or unit which is established, owned, controlled or wholly or substantially financed by funds provided directly or indirectly by the appropriate Government or the local authority or a Government company or a corporation or a co-operative society;

(ii) any private sector organisation or a private venture, undertaking, enterprise, institution, establishment, society, trust, non-governmental organisation, unit or service provider carrying on commercial, professional, vocational, educational, entertainmental, industrial, health services or financial activities including production, supply, sale, distribution or service;

(iii) hospitals or nursing homes;

(iv) any sports institute, stadium, sports complex or competition or games venue, whether residential or not used for training, sports or other activities relating thereto;

(v) any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment including transportation provided by the employer for undertaking such journey;

(vi) a dwelling place or a house;

[xvii] Section 2(a): “aggrieved woman” means —

(i) in relation to a workplace, a woman, of any age whether employed or not, who alleges to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment by the respondent;

(ii) in relation to a dwelling place or house, a woman of any age who is employed in such a dwelling place or house

[xviii] Clarissa Rodrigues, “The Social and Political Thought of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan” Chapter: On the functions of a teacher, at page 133.

[xix] Avinash Nagra Vs. Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti and Ors, (1997) 2 SCC 534

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