“The root cause of gender discrimination is the patriarchal mindset prevalent in the Indian society.” — Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Zubin Irani in the Lok Sabha on 19 July 2019.
Cut to 2023, the students of the University of Hyderabad (UoH) are asking the authorities to reconstitute the GS-CASH committee, comprising representatives of the Students’ Union, and teaching and non-teaching associations.
Popularly known as GS-CASH, it is the abbreviation for Gender Sensitive-Cell Against Sexual Harassment.
The Students’ Union organised a two-day protest on this week, demanding GS-CASH be brought back. The union also demanded a relaxation in attendance for first-semester students, the settlement of pending bills and distribution of pending prize money.
The central university earlier had ICC-GS-CASH, which it later replaced with just the ICC (Internal Complaints Committee). The students felt it was an undemocratic move as the administration has more representation in the committee.
“Students do not have adequate representation in the ICC. It is more about moral policing when students seek help,” Students’ Union general secretary Gopi Swamy told South First.
Research scholar in the Department of Translation Studies Sahana Pradeep called for a body with a wider scope and vision.
“Sixty percent of UoH students are from the socio-economically marginalised sections. Hence, the question of gender becomes an issue of social justice. We need a body with wider scope and vision — not just a complaint cell,” she told South First, pointing at the need for reconstituting the GS-CASH.
ICC and GS-CASH
The ICC, which came into effect on 1 January, 2023, comprises nine members: A presiding officer, two faculty members, two non-teaching staff members, three student representatives and one from a not-for-profit organisation.
The GS-CASH, however, had the president of Students’ Union and Teachers’ Association, Dean of Students Welfare (DSW) and the Chief Warden, besides the ICC members.
“In ICC, all members are nominated. The GS-CASH had both elected and nominated representatives from all sections, which made it a democratic body,” Sahana explained.
She added that while the ICC investigates complaints and grievances, GS-CASH had a wider perspective, especially when it comes to gender sensitisation.
‘GS-CASH has more responsibilities’
The UoH administration’s 2016 decision to scrap GS-CASH ran into stiff resistance in 2017.
“We arrived at an understanding considering the UGC regulations to keep both ICC and GS-CASH in the title,” Sahana recollected.
Several students told South First that like many other universities, UoH students also come from different social background, requiring sensitisation on “how to respectfully coexist and accommodate different gender identities”.
Sahana, who is also the vice-president of the SFI unit on campus, said that while the GS-CASH focused on creating awareness and redressal of students’ grievances, the ICC focusses on handing down punishments.
“GS-CASH also conducted workshops and talks, while ICC is only a complaint-registering and investigation body,” she pointed out.
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ICC is a puppet: AISA
The UoH unit of AISA termed the ICC a puppet in the hands of the administration, which “spells the death knell for the very idea of an unbiased, free and fair enquiry”.
“It is why GS-CASH membership has to remain predominantly elected and accountable, and constitutive of representations from multiple democratic bodies of campus such as UOHTA (Teacher’s Association) and Students’ Union,” it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, MA Media Studies student Loni Das, disagreed with those considering GS-CASH as a body dealing only with women’s issues.
“It is about resisting patriarchal structures and also bringing up the issues of the LGBTQIA+ community. With the support of queer groups, GS-CASH organised sensitisation programmes to break the idea of inherent binaries and gender-sex divide,” the AISA member told South First.
The road ahead
On 26 January, the Students’ Union announced that it “ensured that one representative of the union will be part of the ICC, apart from three elected representatives”.
Speaking to South First, UoH Registrar Devesh Nigam said, “One member (of the students’ union) may be co-opted for student-related matters.”
“As a part of the ICC, I ensure the students that it will be fair and transparent. It is not just a punishment committee. After the elections (Students’ Union), it might have a provision for student’s representatives,” Presiding Officer of the ICC, Suchandra Ghosh, told South First.
Meanwhile, the Students’ Union also claimed that the UoH administration has assured them of positive decisions on other demands too, including a relaxation in the 75 percent mandatory attendance.