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An Analysis of the ICC at Educational Institutes

April 26, 2023
- Sneha Sundararajan

Sexual harassment is a serious issue, which easily goes unaddressed in a patriarchy because it is gendered violence. But there are rules and laws to help support women, namely, the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act, 2013. Appearing in the Extraordinary Gazette of India on April 23, 2013, The POSH Act entails the structure and function of the Internal and Local Complaints Committee in detail. A document I have spent hours pouring over, making notes, and trying to understand.

This article is going to be a critique. But an incomplete one. Incomplete because I will only cover what is wrong with the structure of this officially mandated body, drawing no parallels to the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) body I have had contact with, the one at IIT Roorkee. What happens on-ground when trying to resolve sexual harassment cases is another discussion for another time. The ICC only extends its support to women. In this article, I use two phrases- ‘victim’ and ‘aggrieved women’. The ‘aggrieved women’ is anyone who registers a complaint with the ICC, and ‘victim’ is someone against whom sexual harassment has been committed.

A Brief on ICC

The Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) is a body mandated by law to ensure that cases of harassment and discrimination in the workplace are handled effectively and efficiently. The ICC is responsible for receiving, investigating, and resolving complaints of harassment and discrimination and ensuring that the process is fair, impartial, and confidential. This body also extends to educational institutes. IIT Roorkee has a functional committee with Prof. Ranjana Pathania as its president as of April 2023.

Sexual harassment includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour (directly or by implication), namely:

  1. physical contact and advances; or
  2. a demand or request for sexual favours; or
  3. making sexually coloured remarks; or
  4. showing pornography; or
  5. any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature

Composition of ICC

The ICC is composed of

  1. Presiding Officer: a woman employed at the senior level. If not, nominated from any other workplace of the same employer.

  2. At least two members of employees, preferable who have experience in social work

  3. One member from an NGO committed to the cause of women (They must be paid.)

These members all occupy senior level positions. Therefore, it may be intimidating for victims to approach them and seek justice from them. The ICC caters to women who are related to the workplace, whether they are employees or not. In educational institutions, this also includes students- who form a majority of the populus. However, there are no student representatives in the ICC. This means they have no point of contact they can turn to within the student body, someone students generally feel more open to communicating with. The student-professor bond is complex, but there is no doubt that a clear power dynamic is involved, with students taking the lower tier. At this point, not having any student representatives actively discourages victims from approaching the ICC.

Statute of Limitations

Aggrieved women are required to make their complaint in writing within three months from the date of the most recent incident. This discourages women from speaking up and ensures that if they do not act swiftly, their one chance of justice through the ICC effectively vanishes. There are many reasons a victim cannot make a complaint within the time frame of three months, some being physically unable to and taking time to process what has happened to them. There is a provision to extend this time period under ‘satisfactory circumstances’, but the gazette does not specify what that entails, and will be under the discretion of the ICC itself. Given how there is a lot of space for coercion in this structure due to the existing power dynamics in such a scenario, what defines ‘satisfactory circumstances’ can be quite uncharitable.

Tedious Process for the Victim

If you approach the ICC for a complaint, buckle in for a long ride. The onus of proof and details lies on the victim, who must submit all this in writing. The inquiry should take a maximum of 90 days, plus another 10 days to provide a report to the employer- more time than the victim has to report the crime itself. The investigation process can be so long and stressful that it dissuades others from coming forward in the future.

There is a provision for conciliation if the aggrieved woman requests it. In theory, this might sound good, but in reality, it provides an easy opportunity to pressure victims into settling. Students find themselves in this limbo of having to interact solely with professors, whom they are at the mercy of, and have to enter complaints within this flawed structure where there is easy room for coercion and intimidation.

Positives - Icing on a wooden cake

There is a provision for action to be taken against false cases (MRAs around the world scream in joy). A safeguard that the gazette does provide is the inability to convict an aggrieved woman on the grounds of inability to provide inadequate proof.

Further, no information regarding the identity and addresses of aggrieved woman, respondent, or witnesses will be published or communicated to the public, media or press. This gives both parties the benefit of not dealing with extra pressure and trauma from the public and media.

Information may be released regarding the justice secured to any victim of sexual harassment under the POSH Act without disclosing details such as the name, address, identity or any other particulars which can lead to the identification of the aggrieved woman and witnesses. If anyone should want to do so, they can keep the ICC in check and to be held responsible for their actions.


The existence of an Internal Complaints Committee only benefits women if the structure that it is built on can support the women who approach it. Given how violence towards women and sexual harassment towards women continue to be commonplace in today’s society, this means approaching investigation and power structures with a sense of empathy and support for the victim, rather than being a neutral face. Further, institutions become a special case wherein most of people involved are not employees, and thus special accommodations need to exist to cater to these situations.