By Shambhavi Saxena:
On 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.
“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.
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.
Her 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.
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?
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
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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