By Abhishek Jha:
There is an imminent danger, tactfully gilded over with a sense of security and calm, which is not bad fortune but bad history. In speaking of the place from where I broadcast this warning- and also from where I belong- I am to be guided by a seven point rubric of core values from which I quote the following:
‘Respect and tolerance for the views of every individual’
‘Attention to issues of national relevance as well as of global concern’
‘An unfettered spirit of learning, exploration, rationality and enterprise’
‘Sensitivity to social responsibilities’
You will find the above enlisted on the website of IIT Roorkee. It’s a crying shame that while fellow students across the country clamour in support of the horrific molestation at Jadavpur University, the community here does not stir. Maybe they are doing their bit towards helping the cause, and indeed, while I reflect on my ‘crying shame’, I realise that this community is not apathetic in general; in fact, only recently people came forward with great enthusiasm to help the flood victims in J & K. There are examinations in progress, too. Why then did I raise an accusatory finger in the first place?
It is perhaps because of an iota of jealousy. I know that if, heaven forbid, such tragedy were to fall on this campus, the response won’t be even a tiny fraction of what we are seeing at Jadavpur. A few weeks ago when I was going out of the campus, the guards warned us that the neighbourhood isn’t safe and that since we ‘were moving out of campus after 8 PM, they won’t be there to help if a girl comes crying to them for help’ (a couple of girls happened to be in the group going out for dinner). He then told us that we could go out at our own risk. This place where we were going is an old haunt with which we are well acquainted and do know what dangers lurk outside, and hence, we decided that we will go out anyway. Later that evening I learnt that a few days ago a girl had indeed ‘come crying for help at the gates’, trying to escape eve-teasers/molesters – the story isn’t even known to people. It is perhaps this that found me making a spirited accusation that leads to its examination.
It is time that I clarify that I am not condemning the student community, not entirely that is, but the harrowing state of affairs in my institute. They are verily the victims of the situation. You only have to have a brush with the administrative machinery here to learn that. As a complete analysis of its deplorable ways is too monumental a task to be individually taken, I analyse and denounce only a single facet of it here.
The institute prohibits female students from moving out of their hostels after 10 PM. A cursory glance at this fact might seem to be a precautionary measure, given the rate at which crimes are being committed against women in this country. However, one must take note that no such restriction is in place for boys who may enjoy the beautiful campus, which is secured by boundary walls, gates, CCTV cameras, and guards at any time of the day or night. Let me not embarrass myself by pointing out the all too evident disparity in the freedoms offered to different sections (if they are at all different) of students in the campus. However, let us not keep the evidence aside either. The reason cited – the safety of the said section – is risible. The influx on the gates at night is null compared to what it is during the day. The guards can do more thorough identity checks at night. The ‘neighbourhood’ can be with more certainty and effectiveness kept out of the campus at night. And if the institute fears the inmates of the institute themselves, they can commit crimes even during the day. The campus is spread over 356 acres and not all of it is bustling with activity throughout the day. Surprisingly, the institute raises the time limit to 11 PM during campus festivals when not only people from different colleges, but a huge crowd of general public throngs the campus.
As we look more closely and find all the cited reasons preposterous, it appears more and more likely that there are other forces at play. The administration is not the hapless benefactor trying its best to work in loco parentis. It is the perpetrator of a crime that has been perpetuated by patriarchal repressive structures over the ages that neither respects and tolerates the views of every individual, nor pays attention to issues of national or global relevance, festering any spirit of rationality or enterprise and responds with rhetorical and prejudiced arguments, leading to an exhausted hopelessness that can only make one insensitive to social responsibilities.
True, there are irresponsible, criminal citizens in this country. But the state ensures, or it at least says that it does, that we exercise our freedom without worrying for our safety. It is the institute’s prerogative that it allow the freedom to be exercised equally by people who it believes are on the same hierarchical plane. By excluding a section from that exercise, it allows the irrational belief in a difference to insidiously take root in young minds. It is important to remember that these people are studying at an institute declared to be ‘of national importance’ by ‘passing a bill in the parliament’. They take up jobs at positions of power and importance at the highest levels in the country. If a section developed the slightest belief in an inherent inferiority and weakness or superiority and strength, it could possible wreak havoc for generations in the country and will definitely inculcate regressive ideas.
Moreover, the administration never shies away from blaming and harassing the victims. Friends and acquaintances repeatedly recount with disgust the uncouth remarks that are made by the guard at their hostel if they arrive so much as five minutes past the deadline. I am afraid of reporting any matter that comes to my notice to the authorities, as I have had my experience with it; which was so much like an inquisition that I wished I had kept the matter to myself. The authorities, thus, that claim to have the restrictions in place for ‘our own good’ seem to never end up doing any good. It is not even just a matter of being able to roam around the campus in moonlight, which is what probably the authorities will derisively state as our desire. Laboratories, campus groups, and study rooms often continue to work beyond 10 in the night, as the day is packed until 6 by classes after which one has about two hours to use the sports facility or shop for essentials. Girls often feel left out of campus groups due to that and are indeed alienated.
In the light of such iniquity, it appears unimaginable that the student community remains silent. The reason for it is rather a paradox of sorts. A casual chat with any student will reveal that most students consider themselves to be grateful to have made it to ‘an institute of national importance’ and do not wish to get in trouble while they are here. The authorities have for decades wielded grades like a weapon against any sign of dissent or disturbance. Requests through students’ council, individual students, or groups of them is met year after year with the same hackneyed rhetoric of safety. Thus the stalemate ensures that the institute continues to lumber on as the symbol of tradition that it proudly declares itself to be, defying rational argument and thought at every step. Change is possible only if the students realise that this is not just an uncomfortable seat that they have to hold for a few years before being released to freedom. This micro-community is a reflection of the country in most respects. And, therefore, probably what happens here will only be writ large when we move out.