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No End To Goondaism: DUSU Members Abuse Quint Journalists In The Name Of ‘Morality’

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By Esha Paul and Urmi Bhattacheryya:

Editor’s Note: The following story has been republished from The Quint, with permission. This is yet another example of how freedom of speech is being controlled and curbed by rowdy elements with political backing. These people believe that they have become the guardian’s of morality and can police people’s opinion. From Scroll.in’s reporter being detained for 7 hours for reporting a beef protest to this incident, isn’t it time that we start questioning such elements and protect our right to speech and freedom?

On a Wednesday afternoon, two of us women journalists with The Quint proceeded to Delhi University’s North Campus for a story on the ambiguity of sexual consent, and how sometimes ‘yes’ doesn’t mean yes. What we didn’t know was that it would land us up in a police thana.

The story we were pursuing was for a campaign The Quint has spearheaded, called #MakeOutInIndia – an open celebration of sex and sexuality, without any euphemisms attached.

We went out with a set of questions like: “If your partner is drunk and says yes to sex, but then passes out while you’re about to have sex – is it okay to proceed to have sex with them?”

We set up our video recording equipment on an open sidewalk next to the Arts Faculty and approached students who seemed willing to talk. Two students agreed to come on camera to answer our questions, once they heard what the video was about.

All was going well, when suddenly a bystander started sidling up to our cameraman, peering into the recording. Our cameraman kept telling him that he was getting disturbed, but then he proudly declared that he was a DUSU member and that we couldn’t be shooting there without his permission.

Satender Awana, fourth from right, pictured here with PM Narendra Modi (Image source: Facebook/Satender Awana ABVP II)

We clearly maintained that this was a public road of an open campus, and hence the Delhi University Student’s Union had no authority over the area. Piqued by our refusal to ask him for permission, the young man furiously started making phone calls, telling us that we’d pay for our irreverence. Before we knew it, a group of five men arrived on the spot and formed a circle around us.

I’m the DUSU President,” one of the new arrivals declared; he had a sash around his neck that said ABVP. This was Satender Awana, whose campaign slogans included the gem ‘Fortuner me rawana Satender Awana.

What started as an argument about space suddenly became an argument about morality. The guy who first questioned us told his friends that we were asking immoral, ‘sex-waale’ questions to ‘innocent bystanders’. “Arey, ek ladki toh mooh chhupake bhaag gayi (One girl hid her face in shame and ran away), he added.

The DUSU president then hurled a number of imprecations at us, which amounted to one thing – that we were asking girls, who were ‘someone’s sister, and daughter’, to talk about their sex lives.

Satender Awana, campaigning during the 2015 DUSU elections. (Image source: Facebook/Satender Awana ABVP II)

If these recordings are played in public, imagine how these girls’ future would be affected!” they argued, “Their marriage would break off and their relatives would disown them.”

Our questionnaire was shown to him. It was about ambiguous sexual consent, and not about anybody’s personal sex lives. We also told him that both participants had been told about the nature of the questions before they came on camera, and that they’d willingly participated. How else would we get answers out of them?

They snatched our questionnaire, and roughed up our cameraman, threateningly circling us. At this point, we were called a variety of names – ranging from ‘corrupt’ to people who clearly had sex freely, and were trying to talk about it ‘khulle mein (openly).

The two students with whom Quint journalists spoke with initially. Do they look unwilling? (Image source: The Quint)

As regressive as their arguments were, we realized that the best thing would be for us to just leave. But by now the number of DUSU members surrounding us had increased to about 20. They threatened to break our camera. “Sex karne ka bahut shouq hai na tumhe” (You love having sex, don’t you), they told us. We frantically called our office for help and were advised to leave, but they stopped us, again. “We’ve called the Station House Officer (SHO). You can’t leave.

While all of this was going on, one of the five men suddenly hit jackpot when he declared, “We haven’t called the girls! Let’s bring them down here” – clearly indicating that the women ‘dignitaries’ of DUSU were also being called to be the women-against-women tool. In came Anjali Rana, the DUSU treasurer, and Priya Sharma, another DU student. By this time, a police van arrived and a bunch of cops surrounded us.

All the three DUSU elected representatives (garlanded in the photo) were on ground to question our ‘morality’. (Photo: Facebook/Satender Awana ABVP II)
All the three DUSU elected representatives (garlanded in the photo) were on ground to question our ‘morality’. (Photo: Facebook/Satender Awana ABVP II)

Sharma claimed that she was ‘coerced’ into answering our questions. “Mujhe toh itni sharam aa rahi thi inke sawaal dekhke (I felt really ashamed when they asked me those questions), she whimpered. “I didn’t want to answer, but they told me I was an adult and must answer their questions.

We had never seen these women before, leave alone quizzed them on sexual consent.

Feeling hapless, we requested a senior cop to take us to a quiet spot where we could tell him our version. He refused.

Each time we’d open our mouths, a barrage of abuses, led by ‘Shut up’, ‘you’re making stories’, ‘how dare you ask such filth on OUR streets’ kept flooding the air.

Here are the questions for you to take a call on whether we did corrupt DU:

  • If they say maybe they want to have sex, but then later change their mind. Can you still change their mind back and make them have sex?
  • If you’ve been touchy-feely before and they’ve always been okay with it but are backing out today. Should you try to have sex with them?
  • If they said ‘no’ firmly. Can you still change their mind back and make them have sex?
  • If they say ‘no’ but are smiling while they say it. Is it okay to have sex?
Satender Awana (L), Priya Sharma (C), Anjali Rana (R) in Maurice Nagar Police Station. (Image source: The Quint)

SHO Arti Sharma was a godsend – not only for the speedy help, but also for her stand on the matter. She calmly seated us in a cop car and took us safely to the police station, telling us all the way that we had nothing to fear. “I’m well aware of the issues these guys raise,” she added.

When we reached the thana, the whole bunch of DUSU boys (and the two girls) were waiting, ready to continue the baseless, groundless fight.

Once we entered SHO Sharma’s cabin, she shut the rowdy bunch up immediately, reminding them that we live in the 21st century where we have the right to talk about sex.

The girl who had falsely accused us on the sidewalk, now started with her trumped-up charges. She continued with her ‘Mujhe unke sawaal dekhke sharam aa gayi‘ track – an incredible feat for a woman who wasn’t even present when the ‘sharamnaak‘ (shameful) questions were asked.

But aap manaa kar dete jawaab dene se” (But you could have just refused to answer), the SHO with foresight probed.

Satender Awana (L), Priya Sharma (R) threatening to file a complaint against the two journalists for ‘corrupting’ the DU campus. (Image source: The Quint)

In the meantime, two teachers from Miranda House, Deepika Tandon and Saswati Sengupta (they’d taught colleagues at our office when they were students) arrived at the police station and valiantly took our side.

Their help was sorely needed since they knew the DU laws better than we did, and could counter every baseless argument.

They didn’t take our permission,” the DUSU President said.

They don’t have to, it’s an open campus, and no by-law gives you the right to stop them,” the teachers retorted.

They can’t ask such dirty inappropriate questions on the road,” he roared.

Who are you to decide what is appropriate and what’s not,” the teachers countered, stating that the people questioned were all adults.

Satender Awana (R) arguing with Saswati Sengupta (L) on the DU by-laws. (Image source: The Quint)

Every word uttered by the DUSU President was priceless – “I have sisters in every college – these women cannot ask my sisters such questions.”

SHO Sharma shot down each of these ludicrous statements. “They all have the freedom of speech. So why can’t students decide for themselves whether they want to answer questions about sex?

These were questions that needed to be asked, she said, in the light of rape incidents increasing in India. “Aap log picture-ein nahi dekhte?” (Don’t you watch films?), she joked. “Akhri kaunsi film dekhi hai tumne jismein sex nahi dikhaya, ya micro-mini mein actress nahi dikhai!” (Which was the last film you watched which did not depict any form of sex, or an actress in a micro-mini!)

One even answered, “Ma’am, Drishyam!” Obviously, such logic and light of reason were lost on these fine souls.

They were hell-bent on filing a complaint against us for tarnishing the honour of Priya Sharma (who continued to embellish her fairy-tale with each passing moment) by asking her sexual questions in front of a male cameraperson.

Satender Awana (L), Priya Sharma (second from L), Anjali Rana (third from L) being schooled by SHO Arti Sharma (extreme R) (Image source: The Quint)

Once this banal exchange was over, we headed out of the room on SHO Sharma’s suggestion, who somehow managed to pacify them and end this matter.

While we waited at the thana for our cab, the DUSU bunch stood across the gate, sending us death stares.

This incident is exactly why we need a campaign like #MakeOutInIndia – which highlights that questions on sex are not shameful, but necessary. Where a few who believe they are the jagirdaars of morality can’t dictate terms. And where women talking about sex aren’t somebody’s ‘sisters and daughters’, whose marriage prospects are at stake, but brave and free-thinking individuals.

Disclosure: Quintillion Media Pvt. Ltd, owners of The Quint are also investors in Youth Ki Awaaz.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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