The New CASH FAQs Bring Out as Many Questions as they Clarify
By Raghav Bansal, UG'24
TW- Mentions of SH
Ashoka’s Committee Against Sexual Harassment (CASH) has a document called “FAQs” which acts as the primary source of information for students who wish to file a complaint. On 14 June 2022, CASH circulated an updated version of the FAQ doc with the student body.
This document attempts to provide certain clarifications, for example, it explains whether CASH would accept cases in which the complainant does not have any witnesses or evidence to support their case. Thus, the updated version is a good step forward in clarifying the powers of CASH. However, there are many parts that are still subjective and unclear, an explanation of which could help simplify the provisions further for the student body.
The updated document more clearly defines CASH’s powers. It says “CASH has no powers other than to recommend measures”. This means that their verdicts are sent to the administration in the form of a recommendation. The recommended measures are then implemented under the purview of the administration only. This is an important point that the previous version of the document made no mention of. Along similar lines, the updated document mentions another aspect something the previous document does not talk about. It says that CASH will only consider a complaint if the harassment is sexual in nature. Thus, if the case does not involve sexual harassment as defined by the CASH policy, it should be taken up by the Anti-Ragging Committee (ARC) and not CASH.
While the updated document does well in explaining CASH’s powers, it is not devoid of loopholes. There may be certain cases in which the complainant may not have any witnesses or evidence to support their case. The updated version states that CASH will accept these cases. However, it further states that the decision to take up the case depends on the “strength of the case”. The document fails to define “strength” here, which can lead to subjectivity and create a sense of fear that some cases may not even be taken up. CASH reassures the complainants by stating that in the period 2019-2022, all cases have been accepted. Moreover, when The Edict reached out to the CASH chair asking for clarification on this, they said that the “strength of a case” refers to the details of a complaint. Since each case is different, CASH cannot give a single formula and the committee members will discuss the details of each case and decide whether it would be taken up. Still, a mechanism could have been mentioned for dealing with such inevitable ambiguities. For instance, the involvement of substances may affect the parties’ recollection of the details of a case. In such a scenario, giving a more objective explanation of factors affecting the acceptance of a case would have provided the concerned parties with much-needed clarity.
Another important category of cases that the older version is silent on is the one in which cases take place outside the university campus. The updated document clarifies this and states that CASH can take up cases in which a member of Ashoka was sexually harassed by another member of Ashoka outside the campus. But, it still fails to mention the procedure in a case where someone from outside Ashoka files a complaint against a student/member of Ashoka. When asked about this, the CASH chair replied that these cases depend on the context of the interaction. If one of the parties is representing Ashoka during their meeting (for example- a competition), then CASH can consider their complaint. However, CASH’s powers cannot extend to a case where both parties are not representing Ashoka. This is an important detail and mentioning it in the FAQ document could have greatly reduced the ambiguity that one might face while tackling these issues.
By law, parties are required to maintain confidentiality in certain cases after they are closed. This also extends to cases involving sexual harassment. On this issue, the updated document makes another change. The older document states that both the complainant and defendant are under no obligation to maintain confidentiality. However, the updated version says that while the complainant can share information about a case, the defendant cannot. CASH clarified that this comes from the official rulebook based on a Supreme Court ruling, according to which, the complaints committee only “requests” confidentiality, for the protection of the complainant and the witnesses. However, if this is the case, clearly stating that confidentiality is “requested” and specifying what the procedure would be if a defendant breaks the confidentiality clause would have helped provide the student body with the clarity one needs to deal with such issues.
The updated document also remains silent on online harassment, unlike the older version, this might be because we have shifted to an offline semester now. However, such cases are not confined to fully online semesters since breaks between semesters last almost 4 months and during this time, online cases of sexual harassment may come up. When asked about this, CASH responded by saying that online cases would be taken up if they fall within the ambit of sexual harassment as defined by the official rules.
In conclusion, the updated document is a good foundation for getting basic doubts cleared pertaining to the powers of CASH. But it is not absent of inadequacies as there are multiple parts that may be ambiguous for the reader, and this ambiguity might reduce the impact of the FAQs themselves.