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.

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