In light of the recent strong wave of #MeToo where women in Indian media and elsewhere are sharing their experiences of sexual harassment, I think it’s a good time to recall an episode of sexual harassment in 2016.
This was before the #MeToo movement, as we know it today. A brave young student from the college, from where I had graduated earlier that year, had decided to come forward with her story of sexual harassment in a submission she had authored for Youth Ki Awaaz – my then employer. I think it was July or August of 2016.
She knew the risk she was taking and decided to write it anonymously. I knew her before this, and I stand by her submission, till date. I expected a reaction to her article but I was not ready for the online onslaught once the piece came out. Trolls, apologists, slut-shamers, etc. came out in full swing. The worst was the chest-thumping college devotees including many of my friends – even a close one – entirely dismissed it. Ironically, many were students of journalism and apparently flagbearers of truth. Many of them, including juniors, I had adored were now personally rooting for the downfall of YKA, the survivor, as well as myself. Juniors – you know who you are. Of all the people, I thought journalism students would understand.
For them, it appeared as a big conspiracy against their beloved university. Let me make something very clear right now: I loved my university too. I had a great time there and graduated with good grades. But I also know that for many this was a place where dreams went to die. It didn’t for my group of friends and me, but that doesn’t mean that it was the case for all. People failed to realise that not everyone has the same experience in a given space.
Ironically, almost all students, especially in the humanities, rumoured and talked about an incident about a particular clergyman-professor (who also taught me and successive batches) and an incident of an alleged sexual assault he had committed years ago. There were also numerous theories about an alleged cover-up. The Ladies Finger had done a great detailed report on this in 2016.
My female friends and most in the deanery were wary and scared of him and would try to “dress modestly” to not “attract attention”. Male friends would accompany them, just in case. At one point, during a class, when he asked us to close our eyes to demonstrate something on sleep, many wouldn’t because who knows what this creep would be up to. He probably doesn’t teach there anymore because he fell out of favour.
Anyway, some people screamed “due process” then too. Our head counsellor was the administration’s “handler” or Hitler. She slut-shamed students, berated them over attendance, and even warned one of my close friends that she would “get raped” if she worked part-time at night. She did the complete opposite of what was expected of a counsellor. The human incarnation of internalised misogyny. So, not a safe space there.
Many teachers were on our side, but they were helpless. They sympathised with us but couldn’t do anything. They usually are met with strict consequences if they decide to stand up to the management – which is essentially an old-boys “so-called virgin” club. There are brothers (clergymen in training), who study in the nearby seminary, who are inserted in every class and serve as moles and snitches for the administration. No such thing as a safe space in your classroom.
Back to the timeline, my alma mater decided to get into damage control. They sent a legal notice to my employer to take down the article and banned me from campus. At that time I felt terrible, but let it go.
As much as I hate to say this, I am so glad the survivor didn’t name herself publicly. She was still studying there, and god knows what she would have faced had she revealed her identity.
To those people who vigorously defended the university and abused the survivor, I hope you have read and learnt something over the past two years of women publicly identifying themselves at great costs to out their abusers, only to see most of them go unpunished. I hope you are chest thumping university-level nationalism is over. Many of these same people today protest and complain against government fascism. You were the same people who acted as mercenaries for the so-called office of “student welfare” and did great PR for them without even them asking. At YKA, we even started receiving survivor-shaming articles.
I don’t have any pontificating words of advice on how to move on from this. I continue to stand with that survivor and all others today, tomorrow, forever. #TimesUp