This is an essay on the issue of sexual harassment in university Campuses and the role of the student community in its prevention. This essay was submitted as an entry to the GSCASH [Gender Sensitisation Commmittee Against Sexual Harassment, JNU] Essay writing and poster making competition on the issue [see details] and won the first prize [4k Rupees]. I also presented this paper in the GSCASH seminar recently organised in the JNU campus. I had also made a comics on the issue of sexual harassment and will publish it soon.
I have enumerated some 25 points in about 2100 words. GSCASH in a very reputed body in the Jawaharlal Nehru Univerisity campus. It was formed following the guidelines on the prevention and deterrence of sexual harassment in the workplace laid down by the Supreme Court of India in its 13 August 1997 judgement on the Writ Petition (Criminal) Vishaka vs. State of Rajasthan, the Vice-chancellor of JNU appointed a Working Group on Sexual Harassment headed by Professor Karuna Chanana on 5 September 1997. Read more about it on the JNU website. It oversees issues like workplace harassment, gender discrimination, harassment on the job, harassment complaints and such like.
The Essay: Full Text
Gender sensitization against Sexual harassment in campuses is a sine qua non of peaceful and respectful living. Sexual harassment can happen at work places, institutions, in the family or on the streets. Even in an enlightened institution like a university campus (including the JNU campus), sexual harassment cannot be very uncommon. Bad people are everywhere and often the wolves are in sheep’s clothing.
This essay is not any scholarly, academic attempt to pen down a few thousand words suitable for publication in some academic journal. This essay is my observation on the issue — gender sensitization against sexual harassment in campuses and the role of student community — and will also touch on issue relating to prevention and prohibition among other things.
Students are the most active people within a university campus. They are also the ones who are most vulnerable to sexual harassment. This exploitation could take many forms: students vs. students, staff (teaching or non-teaching) vs. students, Road Romeos vs. students and the like. Students are also the ones who are most vigilant against sexual harassment. Only if the student community is awake and keeps guard, a solid mechanism for prevention and prohibition of sexual harassment can be satisfactorily devised and implemented.
Students are young and emotional; they react and act more comfortably unlike the old people who are shy to radical and drastic changes. They can be the vanguard of change on this front. The JNU student community in particular is very alive to the issue of sexual harassment. To begin with, this essay will discuss how the student community in the campus is aware of the various facets relating to gender sensitization, prevention and prohibition of sexual harassment.
If there is one term/phrase/acronym that is most popular within the JNU campus, it is not the ‘Ganga Dhaba’ but it is the GSCASH! Observe the discussions on the dining table in any mess hall or the dhabas and chances are you will get to hear the term and some stories where GSCASH will get a mention. Meet any newcomer to the campus and the newest lingo he/she has learnt (with surprise and awe of course) is the GSCASH. The acronym gives him/her a sense of difference about the JNU campus. He/She may take some six months or more in knowing the full form of GSCASH (the political pamphlets certainly aid the education and socialization) but he/she knows the nitty-gritty: that sexual harassment and harassers will not be tolerated, come what may and that they talk about it here and not hide things.
“Uspe GSCASH ho jaaega / gaya,” is a popular lingua franca in the campus. If somebody is declared a sexual harasser by the GSCASH, his reputation is certainly tarnished and he is considered an outcast. There are committees like the GSCASH in other campuses too but none have a reputation that could rival JNU’s GSCASH.
GSCASH certainly has put the fear of God into many (especially the potential would-be harassers, students or professors or the non-teaching staff). Cases have also happened in this campus where political megalomaniacs have threatened the rivals with a fake GSCASH suit against them! Such is the fear, popularity of GSCASH and awareness against sexual harassment in this campus. GSCASH gets frequently talked about in the campus and more so when some punishment and action is initiated (or not initiated) as per its enquiry reports.
The student community has a huge role vis-à-vis the gender sensitization against sexual harassment in the campus. Students can change attitude, people, governments and administration and history is a testimony to the fact. The student community is at the forefront of activities within a campus. As such they are poised to contribute to gender sensitization more than any other mechanism, institution or administration.
In a nutshell, the students can do the following among other things (the list is only indicative and not exhaustive and not necessarily in order of importance).
- The students can talk about the issue and take a pro-active stand against sexual harassment. It is important to talk about this subject which still many consider a taboo and the role of students here is enormous. One SMS message from one girl to another about a bad boy or a bad professor will have many times more impact than any educational poster and pamphlet of GSCASH.
- Students can condemn instances of harassment and seek grievance redressal in a united voice thereby sending a strong message to the campus community. Often lack of voice and support against sexual harassment is a reason for the administration to award a minor punishment to the sexual harasser.
- Students can remain active and vigilant which will be a discouraging proposition to the would-be harassers (be it a faculty member or a non-teaching staff). This vigilance and watch can take many forms from being aware of one’s rights to ferocious activism on this front.
- Students can choose to voice their opinion instead of choosing silence or neutrality. Neutrality only helps the oppressor, needless to say. Unfortunately many students today embrace silence on this issue.
- Students can discourage the political and personal motives of parties, organizations, officials and individuals who sometimes use their power and authority to save a sexual harasser.
- Students can be sensitive to social issues like women’s empowerment, gender disparities and shun social evils like dowry. Sexual Harassment of women is also a concomitant of the whole social structure biased towards the womenfolk. Students have to see the big picture.
- Students can shun fellow students and friends who are part-time road Romeos, who ogle the women and see them as sex objects. At presents a number of students consider some “eve teasing” normal healthy fun and harmless!
- Students can begin the process of reform by reforming their own family first of all and changing their orthodox and traditional parents, family members, kith and kins who subscribe to the age-old view of gender role stereotyping steeped in caste, religion, and tradition. The subordinate position of women in family is also reflected in the society. Reforming the family will reform the society as well.
- Students can share information, tips, and grapevine and alert each other about a potential sexual harasser. The officials are always late in responding to a brewing crisis situation and students can fill the gaps and complement and supplement the work of the committees like the GSCASH.
- Students can choose to support a woman who lodges a complaint against some influential member of the campus instead of calling her in question. It is not very uncommon finding students in the campus who doubt the character of the victim instead of chiding the accused. It is not rare finding people saying sexual harassment is “complex, subtle and highly subjective” and that some women are likely to abuse the mechanism.
- Students can be aware of their rights and duties and choose to say no to any potential situation that may lead to sexual harassment. In other words, a girl can say a loud NO to a faculty member if the former calls her to the lab during the small hours.
- Students, especially in a residential campus like JNU, can choose to be wise and discerning to find out the bad people in the community. The sexual harasser looks as innocent as another human being. The onus is on the wisdom of the student community to find the odd man out and spread the news before the harasser spreads his tentacles. Students, because they are students, frequently come in contact with each other and members of the campus community. They are more poised to know and discover people. They should share such knowledge in common good so that prevention can be initiated before the harm is done. In most cases, a rapist or harasser has committed many crimes before he is caught.
- Students can choose to adopt a firm, uncompromising stand against a sexual harasser. A lenient approach is an incentive to would-be harassers who may think that they will be let off with a warning or some fine even if caught!
- Students can give nightmares to the higher officials who try to save an accused for whatever reasons. Students can directly approach the media, NGOs, campus level committees, other bodies and shame the administration into accepting its responsibility towards the campus community and the society.
- Students can choose to be sympathetic to the cause and the victim. Unfortunately, there are students today who do not take sexual harassment cases seriously and some even do not even consider it a serious crime.
- Students can network among themselves and prepare an unofficial list of staff, students and faculty members who show deviant tendencies. Sometimes informal methods and communications are more successful than official and formal procedures of prevention and prohibition.
- Students can aid public policy by contributing research and articles on the issue. The campus itself can be a good place for some survey and field work.
- Students can augment the efforts of campus level committees such as the GSCASH in the good cause. They can pressurize the administration to take steps to improve the working of the committee, make implementation of its recommendations mandatory and provide it with more members, secretarial assistance and finance, the lack of which plague the committee’s working. Presently, the majority consists of bystanders and onlookers who do not want to associate themselves with the GSCASH in any way and think that only those who are oppressed (or those against whom a complaint has been lodged) should go to the GSCASH!
- Students can choose to respect everyone irrespective of their sexual decisions and choices in life. Presently, a section of students (aided by fundamentalists) have this tendency of looking down on girls enjoying pre-marital sex with one or multiple partners in boys’ hostels and the lesbian and gay community in the campus. These students even claim that the “sexually liberated cannot be sexually harassed!” Such students also hold contempt for feminists and are very old-school in their approach to social structure. This section of the student community still needs enlightenment! Students need to understand that sexual morality is a personal choice in life and one cannot judge people on the basis of that very personal parameter.
- Students can demand improvement in working conditions and security in the library, laboratories and the classrooms to make it more amenable to a humane, harassment-free, exploitation-free set-up.
- Students can choose to be brave and strong and stand up against colleagues, professors and higher officials if subjected to harassment. At present many cases go unreported because the students fear risking their life and career and meekly submit to the exploitation.
- Students need to take ‘sexual harassment’ as seriously as they take the rape and sexual assault. There are students who try to downplay the issue and think the term is just fashionable or highfalutin vocabulary of the elite!
- Many students have the tendency to generalize things. If they hear of some consensual sex (casting couch, woman using sex to ride up the ladder) they brand all women as ‘loose’! Students need to understand that all this is inconsequential to the issue.
- Students are still not alive to the problem that even a male student can be harassed. Most students think sexual harassment victims can only be females! Unwelcome sexual advances and requests for sexual favours can also be initiated by a woman against a man. Also, with the rise of homosexuality and bisexuality, the victims can very much be males. Students presently consider it a subject of joke unfortunately.
- Students should discourage and ridicule complainants who bring fake complaints for personal motives. It is not very uncommon to find students talking about one/more members of the campus community who have been allegedly used by one/more political parties to frame political rivals! Awareness against abuse of mechanisms like GSCASH by community members is indeed necessary for a more effective GSCASH and other such bodies dealing with sexual harassment.
To sum up, the role of student community in gender sensitization against sexual harassment, its prevention and prohibition is immense. Without the active participation of the students no formal mechanism can succeed in any democracy or campus administration. Prevention, prohibition and sensitization can be fully achieved only through the regular unstinting cooperation and support of the student community. The administration of various university campuses cannot ignore ‘the student factor’ while making policies and the students cannot ignore their role in common community welfare. An attentive and careful student community is the most effective antidote against sexual harassment.
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