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What The IIMC Protest Completely Ignored While Demanding Justice For A Dalit Rape Survivor

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By Shambhavi Saxena

iimc protest 1On 18th March, ex-students of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication organized a small demonstration on its premises to protest the rape of a Dalit employee and the shoddy way in which her complaint was handled. But things took a turn for the worse almost immediately.

A small group of demonstrators had been sloganeering at the main entrance. It was the standard “manuvad se azaadi, brahmanvaad se azaadi” chant, which is a dubstep song now, and would be familiar to anyone who’s been following the news about JNU. But a scuffle broke out at the IIMC protest, when some young men took offence at the word “brahmanvad“. Even as the protesters repeatedly explained that this wasn’t ‘reverse casteism’, that this was about an oppressive ideology, they were met with violent opposition.

Pretending Caste Doesn’t Exist – Again.

“Aurat ki balatkaar hua hai, kisi jaati ki nahi.” (A woman was raped, not a caste)

This is what one of the young men of IIMC shouted triumphantly, followed by a round of applause from his peers. This refusal to acknowledge the role caste hierarchies play in sexualized violence happens a lot but isn’t any less frustrating every time it does.

IIMC was already in hot water earlier this year when one of its students, Utkarsh Singh, was hauled up for making casteist remarks on Facebook. Considering this, it’s not surprising that 18th March saw such a violent reaction against “brahmanvad”.

That day, there seemed to be concerted efforts to derail the issue, to make it a watery #NotAllBrahmins plea for attention. As soon as this happened, some senior faculty and administration members swiftly told the group of protestors they weren’t permitted on the premises. As if we were the ones creating a nuisance.

And all of this happened in the presence of the rape survivor, whom we had come to support and demand justice for. I can only imagine what impression this must have left on her, as those young men tried to erase the reality of caste violence.

Speaking With The Survivor

She was standing peacefully with her husband in front of the IIMC entrance when the protest began, and that’s where she agreed to talk to me for a few minutes.

iimc protest 2Her ordeal started in August, 2015, but the story only broke this month, when Catch News reported that administrative employee Sagar Rana “raped her, filmed her and threatened to put the video on the Internet if she didn’t keep mum.” She had lodged an FIR in October that year, but she was threatened and asked to withdraw her complaint. Even IIMC’s Officer on Special Duty, Anurag Mishra, insisted upon the withdrawal!

Sitting on the lawn outside IIMC’s main entrance, she told me that Rana was still working inside somewhere, still drawing the salary paid for by our taxes and students’ fees. Tears welled up in her eyes when she told me what he did to her. She showed me the scars much too close to her wrist where he had tried to carve his name. She talked about being pressured into ‘compromising,’ and about how she had been transferred twice already, now being made to work in the girls’ hostel, while her rapist gets to carry on like nothing happened. She said she was so happy that there were people who had come out to support her, and I can only hope that more come forward.

But the issue of administrative negligence, which is one of the reasons her case was so poorly handled, still needs addressing.

Stop Shielding The Perpetrators Of Violence

There are too many cases where the woman who complains becomes an easy target of more violence, and every effort is made to silence her. Institutions seem pretty lackadaisical when it comes to protecting complainants, but will often stand by the wrong-doers. Last year, a former Greenpeace employee exposed the organization’s gross negligence regarding her own complaints of harassment and rape, and talked about how conditions made it near impossible for her to keep working. Both Tarun Tejpal and R. K. Pachauri fell back on their privileges and the loyalty of their institutions when they were accused. In the Tejpal case, the complainant also became the target of a smear campaign! And a PhD scholar from St Stephen’s, who had raised the issue of sexual harassment, also accused Valson Thampu of trying to cover it all up.

This problem is systemic.

On 18th March, 2016, that group of aggressive IIMC students accused professors of defaming their beloved institution, but they failed to question the institution that doesn’t do even the bare minimum to deliver justice to one of its workers. Is it so unbelievable, then, that Amit Sengupta, in his resignation letter, called IIMC a “handmaiden of vicious, undemocratic and partisan regime”? And what does it mean when senior faculty members (women, no less) verbally rap us on the knuckles, and tell us we “don’t have permission to enter the campus,” that our taxes pay for?

Muzzling Dissent And Masking Distress

There is undue pressure on institutions of learning, particularly publicly funded ones, to divorce themselves from politics, to simply limit themselves to the chalkboard, and keep students’ noses firmly to pages of their books. One netizen’s unsolicited advice to Sengupta proves as much

iimc

And let’s not forget JNU professor Makarand Paranjape’s quick dismissal of student politics earlier this month.
But it’s the same student politics that shine a light on society’s deepest problems. Such as the persistence of sexual violence in a country that thinks it had its political catharsis in 2012. Or caste-discrimination which required Rohith Vemula’s suicide before it could even become a topic of national discussion.

The IIMC campus is a 1.7 kilometre stroll from where I study – JNU, a place which has come to represent, for me, the Indian student movement against social injustices. But as I walked into our neighbouring institution that Friday, I noticed the atmosphere there was jarringly different.

There was more rage over the slogan than there was over the fact that a woman in their administration had been repeatedly raped in official accommodation on campus. And all of it reminded me of angry ‘patriots’, up in arms – not over the brutalization of Kanhaiya Kumar and faculty members at Patiala Court, not over the death threats issued to Umar Khalid’s family, not over the human rights violations in the ‘nationalist frontiers’ of Kashmir and the North East – but over some slogans that cannot even be legally termed “seditious”.

I got in touch with a member of IIMC’s Internal Complaints Committee who unfortunately could not comment on the matter. But one sincerely hopes it will not be tossed onto a larger pile of files marked “justice pending”.

Images posted on Twitter.

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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.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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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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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.

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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
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