Sexism not “cool”; archaic concepts of masculinity have to change: Kerala High Court

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The Kerala High Court on Wednesday made some pertinent observations regarding what needs to change in the manner in which boys are raised so as to address rising cases of sexual harassment involving students, particularly within the campuses of educational institutions. [Aaron S John v TKM College of Engineering]
Justice Devan Ramachandran opinied that since most, if not all allegations of sexual harassment, seem to be made against boys, it is necessary to introspect as to how to address the issues with the way in which boys grow up with sexist stereotypes.

Quoting medieval theologian Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyan, Justice Ramachandran stressed that sexism needs to be replaced with respect for women.

“The archaic concepts of masculinity has changed – it needs to change more. Sexism is not acceptable or “cool”. One exhibits strength when he respects a girl/woman. Respectfullness (sic) is an imperative that needs to be inculcated very young. How one treats a woman gives an insight to his upbringing and personality. As Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya said “Women are one half of society, which gives birth to the other half, so it is as if they are the entire society,” the judgment stated.

Pertinently, the Court also highlighted the importance of teaching boys the concept of consent.

“They should be taught that real men don’t bully woman – it is unmanly; and not an expression of macho virtue, but its antithesis. It is, in fact, the weak men who dominate and harass woman – this message must ring loud and clear. Boys must know that they should not touch a girl/woman without her explicit consent. They should understand “No” means “No”. We must teach our boys to be selfless and gentle, rather than selfish and entitled,” the Court emphasised.

To achieve the same, the Court opined that children should be taught by their families and schools that they must respect those of the other gender, with a focus on building character, rather than merely achieving academic results.

“Lessons in good behaviour and etiquette must be part of the curriculum; and from at least the Primary Class level; teachers must be encouraged to instil virtues and values in students. This Court hortatively commends the official policy makers and influencers in the field of education – from its inception level – to bestow attention to this,” the Court said while directing that a copy of the judgment be sent to the State Education departments, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), and Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE).

On being informed by the University Grants Commission (UGC) that it will be taking steps in this regard, the Court directed it to submit a report on the same.

The issue of sexual harassment on college campuses came to the notice of the Court when it was considering a plea moved by a student of the TKM College of Engineering, Kollam, who was accused of misbehaving with and groping certain girl students within the campus of the college.

An enquiry initiated against him by the statutory Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) found the petitioner guilty, leading to an order being issued the principal of the college taking action against the petitioner.

The petitioner challenged the ICC report and said that he had not been afforded an opportunity of being heard.

The Court noted that in such cases, students should have the opportunity of approaching the Collegiate Students Redressal Committee, which is a statutory committee to be constituted by the college, which then can take an appropriate decision on the report of the ICC.

Therefore, without going too much into the facts of the case, the Court directed the college to constitute said committee within two weeks and hear the petitioner and other affected persons before taking any decision. It further ordered that the committee must take its final decision within a period of one month after it is constituted.

Even though the writ petition was disposed of on these terms, the Court kept the matter open so that a report can be placed on record by the concerned authorities regarding the action taken on the observations with regard to sexual harassment on college campuses. It will be taken up next on February 3.

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