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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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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.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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