Gender has become a topic of widespread discussion, especially when it comes to younger generations, who are breaking away from age-old notions of gender identity. Being accommodative of people who still show resistance towards feminism, and refuse to expand their knowledge about what the ideology entails, seems like a herculean task.
Change is slow to come and can be superficial in the present scenario sometimes, but there are many who work tirelessly for the same. Seminars, conferences, events and writings have acted as powerful tools for students to speak up for equal opportunities. With organised groups like gender forums or women’s development cells in colleges, people are getting opportunities to participate more actively for a cause that needs greater attention.
“Astitva”, the gender forum at Ramjas College, was initiated with the intention of bringing changes within the college community – but reached out even to those studying or living beyond the campus through various initiatives. After facing a dormant phase for several years, the gender forum was revived in 2016 through events like “Desire As A Guilt Free Choice For Women”, where the cast of the movie “Parched” held an interactive discussion on rape, child marriage and domestic violence – as well as the need to actively fight against such crimes.
The forum also organised a poetry session, “Queerness in Everyday Life” on September 21, 2016; a seminar on “Understanding Sexual Harassment” with Dr. Janaki Abraham in collaboration with “Parivartan”, Kirori Mal College’s gender forum on September 16.
Abhinash D.C., a second-year literature student and a member of “Astitva”, says the discussion led by Dr. Abraham on September 16 left a deep impact on him since there was a reference to assault against men, a topic that gets less attention and understanding than violence against women. Like many other gender-related issues, this too gets hushed up in the name of ‘honour’ and ‘dignity’.
With the objective of initiating deliberations on how society curbs natural instincts, individual thinking, and freedom to mould one’s personality according to one’s wishes, “Astitva” manages to bring together people from all walks of life to teach and learn from like-minded individuals.
Being one of the few colleges country-wide not to limit itself to a women’s development cell, Ramjas harbours a highly inclusive environment by also supporting the gender forum. The gender forum has played a significant role in ensuring safety for the students. An incident worthy of notice would be the harassment charges against the former Vice-Principal B. N. Ray, wherein a dozen students lodged an official complaint against him on the grounds of sexual harassment over a period of two years, in 2007. The gender forum, in this case, had worked relentlessly for the students, and ensured deliverance of a legally recognised punishment to the accused.
Unlike a typical situation of supporting the more powerful college authorities, the forum, by defending the students, underlined that an institution’s responsibility is not only to impart knowledge but to bring to practice what it preaches.
Keeping that in mind, Abhinash says, “People want to move away from male-female binaries. In this case, the importance of a gender forum is crucial, especially in the case of Ramjas College, as there has been a vehement reaction against sexual harassment.” With the likes of Dr. Nellickel A. Jacob, (who exercised his power as an adviser at the UGC Sexual Harassment Cell to emphasise on the need to acknowledge violence against men as a punishable crime) and Dr. Vinita Chandra, (who ensured a successful revival of the gender forum), students have had remarkable professors to mentor them.
Commenting on the support received by the administration, Abhinash mentions that bringing back an inactive student body was challenging, although not impossible. Tremendous support had been meted out by the faculty and administration. The need to bring back to life a student group that had previously played a crucial role within the campus was answered through the initiatives taken by a handful of professors and students.
At the same time, the topics of discussion that had previously been taken up by the gender forum were not seen as controversial by college authorities. Hence, resistance had been minimal. The real challenge, the members feel, comes with organising workshops and seminars on ‘tabooed’ issues, something that the gender forum plans on doing once they have re-built the foundation it thrives on.
The resulting impact has been proven through student response, which according to another gender forum member, Utpal Gore, has been phenomenal. Even those with limited knowledge about gender and equality have participated enthusiastically in workshops. Open to all students, “Astitva” has once again made successful attempts to reach out to everyone.