Wednesday, 18 January 2012

An Appeal to raise voices against an appalling case of Domestic Violence on campus

We wish to bring to your notice a case of recurring domestic violence on the university campus. Mr. Kanakiah, a permanent non-teaching staff employee, has been regularly beating up his wife, Kalyani amma and their two kids. He is an alcoholic and is severely in debt. He also does not give enough money in the house for the usual household expenses. All that said, Mr. Kanakiah has been physically violent since the past three years and has often inflicted severe injuries on his wife and the two children. This has also resulted in a lot of emotional trauma for the family. Kalyani amma has sought the help of various political organizations on campus and a number of faculty members, from time to time. She has also approached the police on two occasions and Mr. Kanakiah has been kept in the jail overnight both those times. Students, faculty members, non-teaching staff members have tried counselling and threatening Mr. Kanakiah by turns, but his violent behaviour has only escalated in its degree and frequency. In such situations, Kalyani amma and the two kids spend the night in the rooms of students and return in the morning. They cannot even leave the city because the two kids need to go to school every day. In any case, leaving home is simply a temporary solution when so much is at stake: financial security, the future of the children, social security, among so many other issues.

Things reached a head on 16 January, Monday, when Mr. Kanakiah poured kerosene on Kalyani amma in an inebriated state after beating her and the two kids. Alarmed and extremely apprehensive, Kalyani amma managed to call for help and students helped her approach the police. Please note that this is a grave offence and a lot of us fear for the physical safety of Kalyani amma and her two children.

A lot of people in this campus treat this as a family issue. We urge the university community to realise that acts of violence, whether perpetrated in a family space or workspace, must be firmly opposed. Three years of physical and emotional harassment cannot surely be dismissed as a personal matter. Let’s raise our voices against domestic violence. Let’s join our hands against gender violence.

Join us in a dharna against domestic violence on Monday. Show your support to Kalyani amma and participate in the building of a more gender sensitive campus space.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

We condemn the unconstitutional attempt to rusticate Kotesh, a PhD scholar of EFLU

Samvad condemns the undemocratic and unprocedural decision of the university administration to rusticate Mr. Kotesh, a PhD scholar in this university. The university authorities claim that the rustication order was issued on the basis of a complaint of physical assault filed by an Assistant Professor of this university. However, the administration chose not to follow due procedures and instead acted in an arbitrary and high-handed manner. No enquiry committee was constituted, nor did any disciplinary hearing take place. This is in direct contradiction of the rights of participants of this university, both their right to information regarding accusations against them and their right to appeal against a verdict that they find unsatisfactory. As an organization deeply committed to democratic ideals and modes of functioning, we do not condone any acts of violence on campus. However, we support the different student organizations and the EFLU student community in the protest against the unconstitutional steps taken by the administration and their attempts to suppress student voices. We urge the university community to join us in this struggle in the interest of safeguarding the democratic nature of the university campus. 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

An Urgent Appeal to Speak Out Against Sexual Harassment on Campus

Samvad wishes to bring to the notice of the EFLU community the latest in a series of shocking incidents of harassment of women participants over the past few months. On 22 November 2011, at around 11 a.m., a female participant was verbally abused and physically assaulted by a male participant inside the SBH bank on EFLU campus. This incident caused a lot of emotional trauma to the woman subjected to this assault, as well as to her friends, and has resulted in restricting their free movement on campus. Since the man had made several threats, including rape and murder, she gave a police complaint which she subsequently withdrew, upon learning that the male student who committed this assault is suffering from, and undergoing treatment for, psychological illness. We admire the woman participant’s sensitivity towards her colleague's unfortunate psychological condition. However, as a forum invested in matters of gender, we would like to express our utmost condemnation of such incidents of violence, especially against women.

We would like the university community to take urgent note of the escalating nature of such incidents on campus. We envision this university campus as a space where participants would be able to lead free, fearless and fully productive lives, irrespective of gender. Any infringement of our rights to lead such lives – whether on the basis of gender, sexuality, caste, class, community, or perceived disabilities – needs to be vehemently condemned. We raise this particular issue of assault, not as an isolated incident, but as one in a series of events exhibiting violent behaviour against women participants on this campus. It is the duty of the university administration to provide the proper conditions for participants to pursue productive academic lives. This includes providing proper support systems for victims of harassment, including counselling, and also attempts to prevent sexual harassment by making the official policy of the university on sexual harassment more publicized. We also believe that it is the duty of the university administration both to provide security to participants against sexual harassment, and also to provide sensitive, alternative structures to deal with participants who display physical aggression as a result of psychological illness so that they do not become a danger either to themselves or to other participants. However, some of the responses that have met news of such incidents have given us cause for worry.

When members of Samvad went to submit a complaint letter to the GSCASH and other administrative officials, one official responded by suggestively asking why such incidents were happening only to this girl. The official went on to say that “such incidents do not happen without provocation”, and requested Samvad not to create an issue out of it, since there is already “too much unrest on campus”. We urge the university community to think about the consequences of such remarks that blame the victim for the violence perpetrated on her. We also feel that the official’s remarks betray a strong prejudice against both women participants in general and foreign women participants in particular, since the woman involved in this specific incident was from the latter category. We also strongly condemn the attitude often exhibited by the administration to suppress any genuine issue on the pretext of “maintaining peace on campus”.

We appeal to the university community to join us in the attempt to promote a gender-sensitive campus. We request you to speak out against every instance of sexual harassment or gender-based discrimination you experience, witness or otherwise encounter. We would like to assert that we believe in legal and administrative reforms, but we also believe that such reforms should be accompanied, even preceded, by vibrant currents of gender sensitization on campus. We invite your participation in an open-ended debate on sexual harassment on campus.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

We condemn the recent incident of sexual harassment of women participants near the night tea stall

It has come to our notice that, on the night of 13th November, a group of drunk men verbally harassed a few women who were at the newly opened midnight chai stall near Sagar. The men were heard passing lewd comments and asking at least one of the women to give them hugs. 

We are absolutely critical of the kind of violative behaviour that the men displayed. This campus is one of the few places available to women, and even men, that they can freely inhabit. We are free to walk on the streets of the campus at any time of the night. This safety and this freedom is precious to us. We urge the residents of this campus to be responsible towards the space of this campus. We urge the university community to be sensitive towards all members of this campus.

We would also like to express our solidarity with the women who were harassed yesterday and offer any kind of support that they might want from us. Once again, we would like to reiterate that we could be contacted in the event of such problems at any time of the day or night. We realise how scary it is to be cornered at a time of the night when not many people are out on the streets, available for help.

Phone numbers: 8374611363, 9618544376, 9704882411

Thursday, 20 October 2011

What is Sexual Harassment? A Discussion

Samvad is planning to initiate regular discussions around issues related to gender and sexuality. The first topic of discussion is: 

What is sexual harassment and what according to you falls under the category of sexual harassment? Let us discuss in detail. You can send in your responses through personal narratives, definitions, listing down discrete ideas or even bring in theoretical arguments. 

You can respond to this question in this thread, or mail us your responses to: Depending on the responses, we are planning to have an open meeting where different aspects of the question of sexual harassment can be discussed.

To follow this discussion on Facebook, visit:

Looking forward to your responses! 

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Introducing Samvad: the speech given by Samia Vasa at the launch event of Samvad

The task of introducing Samvad stands at the intersection of various histories, ready to be invoked, tentatively perched: the history of various struggles in this university, the history of failed attempts to run lgbt groups and gender forums on this campus, the history of the feminist political movement in this region, in this country, and the personal histories of individuals who have organized this forum. In what follows, I invoke bits and pieces of all these histories, and share some ideas about what Samvad can be. Basically, lay out some ground on which we imagine Samvad to function, now, and in the future.

I know of at least one other attempt to start a Gender Forum on this campus. Three years ago, in what was my first semester on this campus, a Gender Forum had just been put together by a few students. In the first meeting, we discussed how this campus, with its exponentially growing population, needed a good and accessible sexual harassment policy. We discussed the current policy and compared it with the much more detailed and nuanced sexual harassment policy for DU. We were told how a couple of teachers and students had sat together for two years to write and bring out the DU policy. It was hoped that some of us here would also be motivated to pursue a similar exercise and come up with a policy that was attuned to the peculiarities of this campus. The group sizzled out after the third meeting, in which we discussed a sexual harassment case on the campus. While we debated the endless spirals of caste and patriarchy and sexual harassment and violence, some of us quietly walked out, and some of us never walked in after that discussion.

Some of us also tried running reading groups around Freud, LGBT Theory, LGBT fiction, but nothing really sustained itself beyond a point. The reasons for these failures were many. As reading groups, they were accessible to very few people. At the same time, the organizers did not have enough resources to be a support-cum-reading group. Practicalities aside, these reading groups did not appeal to most members of the university. There seemed to be no shared concerns. As far as the Gender Forum was concerned, I think it did not work, again, because of lack of adequate resources and also because the issues at hand were far too complex to untangle as a newly formed group.

I evoke these histories at the inception of a new Gender Forum, one that will hopefully last longer, to indicate only one of the many complexities that any organization committed to issues of gender and sexuality will have to face and deal with. Several concerns have been raised about the kind of work that Samvad will do and its role in the university. We have been asked if Samvad will deal only with the issues of women. We have been asked if we will oppose purdah. We have been asked why we need this forum on campus, when we already have so many other student organizations in an already over-crowded campus space.  A feminist organization can mean various things. What is the kind of feminism that Samvad aspires to practice and work with?

These are obviously very complex questions and they all come to us from different locations. At this stage of Samvad, we can only make some tentative remarks, that will probably gesture towards some answers.  To begin with, Samvad is not a women's group, but a gender forum. We make this distinction to emphasize that we are not working with a feminist framework that sees women as the only objects of their intervention. Instead, we want to work with the objective of destabilizing established notions of gender and sexuality. And in this sense, as bell hooks has put it, feminism is for everybody.

I see the Gender Forum as capable of playing a crucial role in naming and negotiating with the varied networks of power in our societies and in our campus. From the casual essentializing remarks that circulate within our hostels to the various kinds of sexual harassment faced by participants to the silence regarding alternative sexualities, the Gender Forum has a complex field to intervene in. This intervention can be in terms of sensitization, mobilization, debate and discussion, as well as initiating change through procedure and protest. In the face of various caste, class, regional and cultural struggles that are waged inside this university and outside of it, some of us have felt an acute need to have a feminist organization that would provide an enabling critical lens to analyse these complex and intermeshed formations of caste, gender, class, culture, identity. While Samvad will function in the space of the university, I see it as working in solidarity and even sometimes in continuity with various other struggles in the region and the country, for example, the struggle for Telengana, and especially the role of women in this struggle, Irom Sharmila's struggle against AFSPA, land struggles against corporate, capitalist forces in various parts of the country, the currently ongoing Maruti Suzuki Employees' struggle in Manesar, among many others.

Samvad intends to take up a range of issues, through various modes of intervention. We plan to have academic readings and discussions, film screenings, workshops, cultural activities like theatre, information-sharing and sensitization campaigns, each month. Alongwith all these activities, we will take up individual as well as general issues that are brought to our notice by the participants of this university. To begin with, we plan to focus on three issues:
  1. GSCASH: In spite of UGC regulations, the GSCASH is not active on this campus. In the event of sexual harassment, we have no phone numbers to contact the concerned authorities, we have no information about the sexual harassment policy. In fact, a lot of us don't even know what constitutes sexual harassment. In an already hostile environment, the absence of an active GSCASH is a matter of grave concern. We hope that Samvad can play a role in the revival as well as the sustenance of GSCASH in this university.
  2. The second issue is related to the women's hostels. The hostel that houses BA students, among many other students, closes its gate to visitors at ten. The ten o'clock rule has been enforced since August, and has been enforced only on this hostel, which is the Baichanda hostel. The other hostel for women, the Akka Mahadevi Hostel, continues with the old eleven o'clock rule. In spite of our protests in August, the Baichanda hostel operates under stricter rules, just because it houses BA students. The very characterisation of BA students that we strained against in our protest, continues to be the grounds of unilateral, administrative decisions. Regarding this issue, we do not want to simply demand the restoration of the 11 o'clock rule for the Baichanda Hostel. What we want to do is facilitate discussions among the residents of this hostel about what they think is desirable for them. As a gender forum, we do not wish to occupy any moral high ground and attempt to enlighten people about their rights and violations. Instead, at all points and levels, we wish to pay attention to the choices that men and women make, in spite of being framed within powerful structures. And that is precisely why we have decided to call this Forum, Samvad. A word that is common to several Indian languages, Samvad means dialogue, discussion, exchange, debate.
  3. Finally, we wish to emphasize the urgent need to have student elections on this campus. Not only do we need democratic processes and a legitimate platform for students, we also need to regulate the procedures and systems that sustain this university.

Among the various other issues that we have in mind, I would like to talk about one more extremely pertinent issue that Samvad intends to address in the near future. This is related to the absolute inadequacy of basic facilities for the non-teaching staff on this campus. Women workers do not even have a place to rest, in case of health problems. There aren’t adequate bathrooms, and the bathrooms that exist are often non-functional - sometimes, they are not repaired for months, and mostly, there is no running water.  We do not see these as simply administrative failures. These are also ideological decisions, and we wish to crucially challenge them at that level. What kind of a workspace is this university for the non-teaching staff? We want to take this question seriously, and work with various sections of the university to make a difference to the state of affairs.

I will end this description of Samvad with a story about its beginning. Samvad evolved out of a series of protests that happened within the women's hostels at the beginning of this semester. These protests were aimed at destabilizing the age-old custodial authority of hostel administrators over the women residents. These protests raised crucial concerns about the nature of university space, distinctions between the public and the private, and the ideological structures of laws, rules and regulations. What started out as a major change in accommodation arrangements, quickly spiralled into all sorts of confrontations with the hostel administration regarding various issues. The hostel admin was planning to have a separate research scholars’ hostel so that a stringent set of rules and regulations can be imposed on the new populations that have entered the EFL Univeristy recently: BA and MA students. The research scholars were told that these young and immature girls had no clue about their new-found freedoms and they were abusing hostel facilities by engaging in sexual and romantic activities. This was supposedly impacting their academic performance. The admin thought it fit that if BA and MA women stop associating with men in their rooms after ten at night, they'll do better academically. In the name of our academic well-being, safety and security, the hostel administration was exerting custodial authority over women students. We were also told that the cleaning staff had heard a couple kissing inside a room. My friends and I were appalled at such an infantile, essentialist and heterosexist characterization of these women students. Instead of looking into the actual problems that the residents had been facing, like access to safe drinking water, adequate bathroom facilities and the utter chaos of construction activities, our personal lives were becoming the focus of the hostel administration. Some of us were very agitated and believed that such an attitude must be actively contested and opposed. We were also of the opinion that the move of creating a separate research scholars' hostel was aimed at creating a divide within the student community.

The other big issue was that the new PhD and MPhil women scholars were made to sign an undertaking when they came for hostel admissions. Among other things, this undertaking included the following: “I will not raise objection to hostel accommodation, rooms allotment and adhere to the hostel functional formalities;” “I will not post any notices anywhere in the hostel premises except in the Notice Boards with the permission of the hostel administration, i.e., (Provost/Warden);” “I will go by the rules and regulations, menu of the mess and follow any other decisions implemented from time to time.” We were alarmed at the implications of these rules. They were a direct truncation of our democratic space and the suppression of our freedom of speech and expression. These rules were not even officially declared to the existing residents before putting them on paper, before getting them signed. Thus, while the process of forging these rules was also undemocratic and opaque, the implications were draconian and tyrannical. Not only were we denied participation in the decision-making processes, we were also rendered voiceless when it came to our problems with the unilateral decisions that are taken by the hostel administration. When some of the residents protested against these administrative decisions, we were dismissed as a handful of individuals, because we were neither an organized group, nor were we elected representatives. Our voices were suppressed; even our posters were taken off the walls in a few hours. We continue to function with these concerns. We continue to work with this beginning of sorts.

I know that the picture is still fuzzy. But I also hope that this open-endedness can be made productive. More than anything else, I hope that this tentativeness can be utilized into creating dialogic spaces on this campus.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Setting the stage for Samvad

Samvad, the first feminist organization of its kind on EFL-U campus founded by some of us students, witnessed its inaugurating day on 14th October 2011 which began with the hosting up of red banner in the quadrangle of the academic block and a showcase of exhibits and posters dedicated to Irom Sharmila, the iron lady of Manipur through medium of art and history, self portraits and popular culture. This gender forum began with commemorating a historical figure who continues to fight bravely against AFSPA and the state's intervention which has especially marred the lives of women in Manipur. The samvad group clad in red began the event with a talk by one of the Samvad members which dealt with the the idea of having a gender forum, dealing with biased administration policies, reestablishing gender cell on campus, issues regarding the women's hostel and the protests that the entire campus vouched for. It also made an attempt to dispel myths about feminism and equating a gender forum to a woman's organization. Following, the introduction to Samvad, our main guest for the event, Dr. K. Lalitha took us down the memory lane, back in the 70s and 80s and enthralled the audience by narrating experiences about radical feminist movements during those times. She also highlighted the importance of having a gender forum and sensitizing the campus about gender related issues. After a motivating talk about the strength of youth in political campaigns and struggle, Prof Madhumita Sinha, faculty from EFL-U narrated her experiences as a teacher in EFL and a student in former CIEFL. The event approached its ending with vote of thanks and a documentary screening - Tales from the Margins, a moving story set in the context of Irom Sharmila, Manipur and AFSPA. The event came to a successful closure with many participants delighted with the conception of a gender forum and also expressed interest in forthcoming activities of Samvad. However, there are many doubts regarding what falls under the paradigm of gender forum. Apart from sexual harassment cases, Samvad also seeks to critically examine and problematize the concept of gender and sexuality through the lens of caste, class and religion and also sensitize the campus to these issues. The forum has just begun with a small conversation but hopes to broaden its horizons by incorporating debates, discussions, events and issues of every nature affecting individuals on this campus.