The Kerala High Court recently held that touching a girl or a woman without their explicit consent is not acceptable. Justice Devan Ramachandran stated that when they say ‘No’ or even gesture a ‘No’, it means ‘No’. Devan further added that he has seen a higher rate of sexual harassment cases in educational institutions, and is determined to take action.
An Engineering student from Kerala’s Kollam district filed a petition, which challenged the order of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) and the College principal against his actions. He was accused of misbehaving with female students in the college. The petitioner claimed that the charges leveled against him don’t stand. However, the court found him guilty, stating that any amount of touching is unacceptable if no consent was given. Justice Devan Ramachandran, who presided over the judgment, affirmed that “No means No.”
The court further stated the importance of sensitizing boys and men about good behavior and consent and how it needs to be a part of the curriculum. “A child should be taught by the family, and from the beginning of school, that he/ she must respect the other gender. They should be taught that real men don’t bully wom(e)n — it is unmanly, and not an expression of macho virtue but its antithesis. It is, in fact, the weak men who dominate and harass wom(e)n — this message must ring loud and clear,” stated the Judge.
“Lessons in good behavior and etiquette must be part of the curriculum, and from at least the primary class level teachers must be encouraged to instill virtues and values in students,” Justice Devan Ramachandran said, speaking about how “Most of, or all, the allegations of sexual harassment are made against boys and very rarely against girls; and in that perspective, certainly, it is now time for all to sit up and think intently as to what should be done, at least for the generations to come.“
The University Grants Commission (UGC)’s regulations regarding matters of sexual harassment need to be implemented in this case. The HC also mentioned that they have to share a copy of the judgment with the Chief Secretary of the Government of Kerala, the Secretary General of the Education Department, the Secretary Higher Education Department, and education boards like CBSE, ICSE, and more.
With the Court deciding that the Kerala Government needs to submit a report about the actions taken, It remains to be seen if stringent remedial measures will be brought to light. The case will be considered again on February 3rd.