Stalking, sexism, patriarchy: girls face tough odds on campus

In the wake of the Benaras Hindu University fracas, students from across India share despairing experiences

Stalking, sexism, patriarchy: girls face tough odds on campus
Two weeks ago, a girl student was harassed on her way back to the hostel at Banaras Hindu University, Uttar Pradesh.

 Enraged students gathered and demanded the authorities address them. They were expecting their vice-chancellor to arrive and reassure them, but a police van entered the campus. Policemen thrashed the students.

 The incident made national headlines. DH spoke to students from universities across India, and they had similar stories to tell. Last year, an MA student at IIT Madras filed a case against a male student.

 He had stalked her for a long time and continued to call her over the phone despite several warnings.

 “After filing the complaint, she had to pressure the Committee for Complaints Against Sexual Harassment (CCASH), and the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) of IIT-M," said a PhD scholar requesting anonymity.

 Though the stalker was suspended from the campus, he managed to get back and follow her again.

 “The CCASH always tries to hush up such cases,” said Arya Prakash, an alumnus who filed a case against a professor. Students are afraid to complain or give statements, she said. The fear is largely of vengeful administrative action, besides physical attacks.

 Puducherry experience

In 2013, two girl students filed a complaint at Pondicherry University over stalking and rape threats. After a primary ‘inquiry’, a committee suspended eight students (including some involved in the violence that erupted after the complaint was filed). And among those suspended were the complainants.

Two years later, the Madras High Court delivered a strongly worded verdict directing the university to pay a fine of Rs 20,000 to each of the victims and immediately release their certificates.

“'Rape' is part of campus lingo to say we won against something. Like 'We raped the hostel’ to say we won against a hostel in a match by a large margin, or ‘I was raped in the quiz’,” says Arya.

During the hostel sports meet at IIT-M, boys shouting “all possible sexist and vulgar comments you can ever hear in your life” is common. The authorities want students to “take it in its spirit,” she told DH. Arya was one of the few girls who contested the elections at IIT-M.

"At the end of the course, they have an anonymous review system where you can send messages to whoever you want. One guy wrote he wanted to rape me when I was campaigning in their hostel," she recalls.

“Till we complained in 2015, no one was aware of the committee. Once the proceedings began, the ICC became the common enemy of the administration and the students. The [Satyajit Ray Film and Television] Institute has tried to dissolve the ICC several times,” says Kunjila Mascillamani, who began the movement Women Against Sexual Harassment (WASH).

“When the battle against sexual harassment was at its peak, in SRFTI, I got an email from Ekabali Ghosh from Jadhavpur University. She was one of the women who had made complaints of sexual harassment against a male student there," she said. The student happened to be the son of a professor. The case caused a furore in the media and in Kolkata but her problems persisted.

"The ICC proceedings were still going on. That is when it struck me that we aggrieved women must unite. We formed an alliance,” Kunjila said. ASH acts as a pressure group and offers guidance to victims of sexual harassment at workplaces and colleges. It also conducts sexual harassment sensitization workshops in educational institutions.

A strong sexual harassment complaints committee makes it better at JNU, feels Dipsita Dhar, a PhD student there. It has elected members, unlike at the ICCs where members are mostly nominated. “The recent attacks on democratic bodies and the attempt to dissolve the committee are the biggest issues for women on my campus,” Dipsita said.

Breaking free

Ankita, an alumna of Delhi University, is one of the founding leaders of the Pinjra Tod movement. Two years ago, when Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi, curbed girls' hostel timings. That prompted students in Delhi University to come together against gender discrimination on the campus. “How do you decide women are unsafe at 7 or 10?” Ankita wondered.

 Jantar Mantar meet

In November 2015, students from various colleges met at Jantar Mantar and shared their experiences. They later submitted a report to the Delhi Women’s Commission.
In some places, the group found, the hostel fee for girls was twice what was collected from boys. "They say CCTVs are installed for our security and women need ACs. These are Victorian euphemisms to support patriarchy," Ankita said. Recently, women in JMI again took to the streets to defy the 8 pm curfew and protest against an arbitrary fee hike.

The administration agreed to roll back the hike the same night, according to a PinjraTod Facebook post.

Greater narrative

Ankita feels the neo-liberal economy is affecting girl students, with "the state and private stakeholders systematically keeping women away from higher education."

Last year, students of Pondicherry University protested against inadequate accommodation for girl students. The administration temporarily allotted a newly built boys hostel for girls. “The constant pressure to 'settle down' is a major discouragement for girls seeking higher education,” Dipsita said.

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