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Instead Of Helping A Survivor Of Harassment, I Watched SRM Institute Save Its Own Skin

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Trigger Warning: Sexual Harassment, Victim Blaming

With recent events of men masturbating at women in open public areas without fear, men’s libido seems to be an open secret. On November 22, at SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Tamil Nadu, a male garbage collector employed by the hostel management flashed himself at and masturbated in front of a 2nd year student. She was horrified, scared, but immediately reported this matter to the reception. Instead of caring for the girl and taking action, this girl was asked to shut up about it. Further, the hostel management stringently forbade her from publicising the incident.

Despite this being a criminal matter, the police was neither involved nor notified. The hostel management when asked for answers, began a chain of dismaying victim-blaming questions. She was told that this happened because she is a North Indian studying in a South Indian hostel. She was told it is because all girls smoke and drink in this hostel hence the management cannot be asked to keep them safe. The hostel management abjectly REFUSED to take the matter to the police and asked the scared girl to write a written complaint instead. When other girls supported her, and came out to protest, they were silenced repeatedly, and their WiFi connections were cut so that they don’t take matters into their own hands. But the hypocrisy was most apparent when the authorities sent a service tempo to “go get the guy” thus implying they were stronger than law itself. The girls were then LOCKED inside their hostel, and rowdy unruly men with knives were called upon to threaten the protestors. The college official who was handling the situation blatantly lied to the crowd, asking them to proceed to the auditorium to “talk it out”, but then locked himself inside his room so as to not respond to the plethora of questions raised by the obviously petrified women. No apology was issued to the women.

News of the incident is being taken down from everywhere, with the threat to expulsion and strict action. Why? Because SRM cannot admit to the fact that it could neither protect the children it pledged to keep safe in the hostel, nor could it ameliorate the situation. The Vice Chancellor went on and on for an hour about how the girl was at fault for not wearing ‘full; clothes; when the girls filmed this, the guards pulled away at their phones. He made a mockery of the event when he smirked at them and asked if they could prove it, even claimed the girl is lying. He also asked her not to make a huge deal out of it and go back to studying.

The college authorities claim that the garbage collector has been arrested, but how can we make sure of that when the survivor wasn’t even asked to identify him?

How can the system let a student down so badly?

How can college authorities ask women to be back by curfew if they cannot even ‘protect’ them in broad daylight?

Why has the harassment case of a young woman become so botched that even that is not her own but a matter of the college’s repute?

Is this how educational institutes want to handle issues of harassment now? By not fostering women but fostering rape culture?

When a harassment issue comes up, how dare you divert it, diminish the woman’s credibility, diminish her worth by making it her fault!

How can you bring the issue of caste even in this? Who allowed you to make a farce of a woman’s suffering to save your self?

A questioning probe also justified the whole event by the account of the man that “he was confused operating the lift, and nothing else happened.” The authorities went on to suggest to the police that this was a ploy to get an exam postponed.

There was no due process followed. What was followed was the abject spreading of lies, and sexist behaviours. Who do they think they are, locking women down, having their internet connections cut off? How dare they?

An apology is in order, to the girl, to all the other women that have been failed by the institution, and for the example that they have set that makes it look like it’s okay to have harassed someone.

Which brings me to ask another question. Why is it that our society has normalised this? Male masturbation cases come up ever so often that it is tough to find a woman in India who has never been flashed by a guy. Toxic Masculinity is to be blamed for the fact that so many men place their egos upon their penises and feel comfortable to stick it out wherever they feel like. It is also to be blamed for the gratification that those same men receive when a woman is compelled to live in fear or in shame.

Editor’s Note: As per a press note released by SRM Institute of Science and Technology, the sanitation worker accused of sexual harassment has been arrested, and the warden suspended.
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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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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.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

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
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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