“Are colleges in India safe for women?”
I’d rather ask if there is any place in the country where women can take a few uninterrupted breaths without being stared at, groped, called names and be harassed.
Incidents of sexual abuse are growing at alarming rates all over the country. No place can boast of being a safe haven against any form of harassment. Institutions of higher education and colleges are wrongly assumed as a sanctuary against sexual assault or harassment. It’s depressing to witness cases of abuse even by staff members and professors piling up every passing day.
A 2017 report by the Ministry of HRD found a 50% rise of sexual abuse cases at college campuses.
This year, a research scholar at JNU was sexually harassed by a Professor of the University. This is not an isolated case. Nearly 200 such incidents came to light in just the past year. And these are figures collected only from colleges and universities around the country. Hit you real hard, didn’t it? Well, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s easy for college authorities to pin the blame on the victims. Why were you hanging around with that guy? Who asked you to visit the teacher privately? Maybe he just behaved in a fatherly way. Yeah right, you might have been brought up to consider your breasts being grabbed as the completely normal action of a doting dad. Or maybe we seduced someone into raping us by wearing whatever we chose to clothe ourselves in. It clearly didn’t dawn on them that logic was not a commodity that you get to buy all too easily.
It’s not just sexual abuse. Harassment has slithered its way into academic discussions in ways that might seem subtle but are nevertheless extremely demeaning. It’s in the way certain teachers cringe when female students appear to be more active than their male/other gender counterparts.
It’s also in the way they comment that girls are better off toiling in the kitchen. The authorities mostly resort to knee-jerk reactions once any kind of assault comes to light; they introduce measures like separate seating arrangements for each gender, imposition of a dress code and prohibition of excessive interaction between boys and girls. Because show some skin or wave to a guy and bam! you get raped!
Soon after the gruesome 2012 Delhi gangrape incident, St. Xavier’s College in Ranchi allotted separate reading rooms for boys and girls. Aligarh Muslim University prohibits the entry of girls into the library because according to them, their presence attracts unwanted attention. The blame always lies on the women, right? Also, how can we forget the Watermelon Protest that took place in Kozhikode in Kerala? This protest was kickstarted by girls of the Farook Training college against the comments of an assistant professor that screamed sexual objectification.
His two cents could be translated to this – “When girls show a part of their chest, it looks no different than a slice of a watermelon.”
Wow. One cannot help feeling amazed at the number of utterly ignorant and naive beings that walk amongst us. These are but a few from among a multitude of examples that demonstrate how the moral compasses of many people have swivelled to a whole new ludicrous direction. The safety of women is gradually being compromised through these little actions that would at first glance seem pretty inconsequential.
Oh yes, colleges with a history of sexual harassment problems are being punished with fund cuts, reduction of grade points and more but the spotlight should be on the task of rooting out those elements that cradle the perpetrators right from the beginning. Because gah, the damage has already been done, geniuses! These elements include the practice of victim-blaming, overly restrictive rules against women, name-calling, bullying etc.
Colleges have instead taken to enforcing a dress code exclusively for women because supposedly, the more you cover up, the less provocative you come off to the people around you. This shows the underlying misogynistic attitude that is fed into impressionable minds thus making it seem okay to view women as toys to be played around with. These rules of ‘propriety’ that the self-styled moral police have put together reek of sexism and only stand to justify the dangerous game of victim-blaming. That colleges in a country with a shameful history of treating women are complicit in giving them the green light is no surprise. This year, the Thomson Reuters Foundation published a report that gave India the tag of being the world’s most dangerous country for women. You are not really mining around rainbows, are you?
It’s said that interaction between different genders is a healthy way to grow and build a good attitude and outlook towards life. Colleges should encourage this process of socialization and also introduce an active cell that tackles issues like bullying and harassment against any gender. Victims need someone who will lend a willing ear.
After the Delhi gangrape case sent the country into a tizzy, much was expected to change. There clearly has been no progress. The Nirbhaya Fund which was set aside for taking measures to uphold the safety of women has around 70% of its funds still remaining unused even as five years have rolled by ever since the horrific tragedy rocked the nation. When those in the highest echelons of power can’t even bat an eyelid, what ensues is a general level of ignorance to this terrible scenario. This mood is ominously seeping into colleges and universities with the entire educational system starting to show signs of descending into chaos as far as women’s issues are concerned.
Either we have sky-high expectations from those in power or something in the system is dreadfully askew. It’s for us to find out. You up for it?