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Campaign 101: The Power Of Public Mobilisation To Address Sexual Harassment

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Two whistleblower students, one education giant, a one-year-long campaign, the importance of Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs). 

And what a victory! 

In November 2018, two students at one India’s prestigious colleges, Symbiosis Law School-Hyderabad (SLS-H), were evicted from the college campus for calling out a professor for sexual harassment and for demanding more efficient Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). It took a year, but they were back! Let us take you through how (in)conveniently Symbiosis allowed the two students on the campus again.

Signature Petition

Jhatkaa.org started a campaign asking the college to start an ICC investigation into the case and take the students back with immediate effect. 

Member Email/Call To Symbiosis 

Member calls to M.S. Shejul, Registrar, SLS, and Dr Vidya Yeradevkar, Principal Director, SLS is done telling members to ask for an update. 

A Bunch Of Letters to

  • MS Shejul, Registrar, Symbiosis International (asking him to take the students back on campus) 
  • Maneka Gandhi, Minister of Women and Child Development (asking her to intervene in the case) 
  • Rekha Sharma, Chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW) 
  • Dhirendra Pal Singh, Chairperson of University Grants Commission (UGC) 
  • Prakash Javdekar, Minister of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) 

A Not-So-Polite Twitter Storm

Everybody’s Favourite: Artivism 

Supremely talented and brave illustrator Sharath Ravishankar depicted the two student’s journeys with a comic strip, and it turned heads and got the media mobilization to spread the word. 

Here’s What We Got 

Jan 2019

Symbiosis sends an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) notification to Snigdha and Apoorva recommending the dismissal of the accused professor. 

March 2019

Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi steps in to ensure that Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad (SLS-H), takes Snigdha and Apoorva back in college. 

April 2019

The National Commission for Women (NCW) ensures that the case was being at high priority for the statutory body. This happened after a few meetings with the students. 

July 2019

University Grants Commission sends an email to Jhatkaa notifying them about Symbiosis’s reply to the petition. They demand that the registrar speaks in the matter as soon as possible. Later reports, through sources, also suggested that UGC had sent a team to the campus to re-open previous harassment cases. 

Oct 2019 

Soon after this mobilization and intervention of prominent stakeholders like ministries and a couple of meetings with the two students, Symbiosis calls them back on campus. 

It’s a VICTORY! 

Soon after we celebrated this campaign at Jhatkaa.org, another campaign proved that gender-sensitization in the police could go a long way.

Public pressure created by Jhatkaa.org members forced the Neb Sarai police station to file an FIR in a sexual harassment case. Honestly, this campaign has seen it all, alleged bribes, police threats, and even a Coronavirus pandemic! 

It was essential that the FIR was needed to be lodged before Delhi shut down the following precautions against the Coronavirus. Police have been evading the case for over six months, and a court shutdown would have meant more financial burden on the complainant.

I still remember the day when the complainant called me late one night with police trying to barge into her house. She was scared for herself and her infant daughter. 

That was the night we knew we needed to put more pressure on the authorities to take this case forward. We wrote letters to the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD), who, in turn, directed the Commissioner to file a report. 

I made calls to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, South, asking him why the case wasn’t filed. While members like you were supporting us online, we continued to take your voice to police and ministries to act. 

Another example was when an Internal Complainants Committee (ICC) was finally set up for the sexual harassment complainant from Indian Museum, Kolkata, who had reached out to us in August 2019. 

We built pressure not only on the Indian Museum director to resign for the duration of the investigation but also on the Ministry of Culture to kick-start the ICC proceedings. 

Repeated calls to the Ministry of Indian Culture, conversation with Under Secretary S.C Mondal, coordinated twitterstorms, and our petition highlighted the case in the ministry, and ICC was set up soon after. 

The power of online mobilization has been visible quite often in campaigns. We live in a digital world, and this is one of the best tools to raise activism as it should be. 

We also had a campaign that gathered 1000 signatures and over 50 emails by Jhatkaa.org  members to the director of Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) and finally getting the sexual harassment redressal process started for the complainant.

The complainant was a final year student with the Kolkata-based film institute who had accused staff of sexual harassment. The institute reportedly intimidated the complainant to take her case back.  

Honestly, a complete victory in this campaign would have been to have the Internal Committee Complaints (ICC) complete the investigation. However, this campaign journey was full of important milestones. For one, within a day of our members sending emails to the director, she re-opened the case. We even got the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to intervene. 

It was a huge step because it was the result of collective pressure and media outreach. This campaign was an example of how media and campaigning, working together, can do wonders.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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