To confabulate about women empowerment is a mere façade. Long speeches are proclaimed in the honour of women, advocating women empowerment. It is all but a deception. Even our institutions don’t provide an impregnable environment for women.
Panjab University is one of the prestigious institutions in the country. It is an impeccable example of naturalising sexual harassment at the institutional level. I have spent two years in Panjab University and there wasn’t a single day I didn’t hear or face impropriety.
‘Gedi culture’ is an intrinsic part of the beautiful city of Chandigarh. Gedi is a Punjabi word that means taking a stroll with friends, mostly in luxury cars. Chandigarh is infamous for its Gedi routes that include various colleges and restaurants, and Panjab University is the epicentre. of most of the routes. Gedi for boys is about flaunting their luxury cars to impress girls. Their pea-sized brain can only fathom luxury as the only appealing idea to women. Guys follow women in their cars and, of course, catcall them.
“I was going from my hostel to the department building and in a bit of a hurry, so I didn’t notice a car following me. The guy drove the car so much closer to me that at the turn, he bumped into my Activa, and it slipped. They ran away and didn’t even stop to see if I was okay. A bystander took down the number and gave it to the guards, but they couldn’t do anything because the number couldn’t be traced. There are no cameras in the university and neither are the outsiders denied entry,” Jasleen Kaur, a former student of Panjab University, commented on the Gedi-culture of the University.
Anika Kaundal, another former student of Panjab University, stated, “Once I was waiting for my friend outside the department building and busy scrolling my phone. Then, I noticed a car that had crossed me three or four times. I knew they would pass a comment, so I went inside the building. But one of the guys came inside the building and asked me for my number. I asked him to leave and threatened to complain. This is eve-teasing and this gedi-culture should be taken into serious consideration. Parking areas should be away from the central buildings of the University so that gedis can be stopped.”
There are a dozen more incidents like the two narrated above. Eve-teasing is a common sight in Chandigarh and is left untouched by mainstream media. But the issue made national headlines when Varnika Kandu, daughter of an IAS officer, filed a complaint of stalking and assault. Is it only the elite who deserves all the media attention and justice? What about the masses who suffer from similar problems on an everyday basis? Monologues on Women’s Day won’t change a thing until we work towards ensuring equality and safety for women.
The Student’s Centre in Panjab University is crammed with the lustful gaze of men, and girls can’t even enjoy a cup of coffee without getting that stare. The crowd mostly comprises outsiders because, of course, University students are too busy worrying about their 75% compulsory attendance. Also, most of them don’t have luxury cars and time to waste on such insolent activities.
Panjab University’s Library Hall is accessible to all and only 10% out of those who access the library come to study there. During exams, the library is jam-packed. I remember, once I was engrossed in my book, preparing notes for my exam, and the guy sitting next to me was constantly staring at me. He made me so uncomfortable that I had to leave the library. Whom do we complain to about such issues? And even if we want to complain, nobody cares.
I distinctly remember one of the incidents when a guy followed me to my hostel from the library. He asked the receptionist to call me from my room. “Your friend is waiting for you in the guest room since your number isn’t available, I’ve come to inform you,” Shiela didi told me, but my number was working perfectly.
I went down with her to the guest room, but I couldn’t find a familiar face to say ‘Hi’ to. A guy stood up, came up to me, and said, “I have been noticing you for quite a few days and I just thought I would surprise you by coming here.” I was shocked to hear him say these words. I told him, “This is not called noticing, it is stalking and how dare you follow me back to my hostel!” I immediately went to the guard and complained about that guy. I felt ghastly after I heard his words: “Putt, aaj ton baad ni hona chahida (Child, this shouldn’t get repeated).”
I compelled the guard to take that guy to the concerned authorities, but he didn’t listen and asked me to drop the matter. The guard committed a crime more heinous than that stalker.
I tried to contact the student welfare committee but I couldn’t reach them, and the stalker ended up getting acquitted. And even if I had managed to complain about him, the mechanism of the University is not efficient enough to trace that person.
A similar case happened in 2019 when a journalist alleged that she was stalked and molested in the University’s botanical garden. The incident took place during sunrise, on her morning walk. The issue raised questions about the lax in women’s safety on the campus. The police circulated a sketch of the accused but got no leads. Had there been properly-installed CCTV cameras, finding the accused would have been easier.
Gender equality and women’s safety have always been the major concerns of the varsity. In 2018, Kanupriya became the first female President of Panjab University and her leadership did bring a change. The PUCSC (Panjab University Campus Students’ Council), headed by Kanupriya, was victorious in ensuring 24-hour entry for girls in hostels. Earlier, only boys had this freedom, which indicated inequality.
Panjab University was established in the year 1882 and after more than a century, the Senate agreed to give equal rights to women. They restricted girls because the authorities felt that being out late would not be safe for girls. Isn’t it their duty to make a safe and hospitable environment for every student? Why aren’t there stricter rules for boys if they misbehave? Why is the freedom of women curbed? To maintain decorum in the institution is a job of the authorities, which clearly, they have failed to do.
Satya Pal Jain, former MP of Chandigarh, in 2019, suggested that PU should start a helpline for women. Authorities have been worried about women’s safety all along and yet, they didn’t even care to initiate a helpline?
“Both boys and girls have equal rights, but an assault on a woman student can destroy her entire life. So, I suggested starting a helpline where women students can call when they are in danger. It will be managed by a control room having numbers of SHOs or SPs concerned. The suggestion was agreed to by all,” Jain said.
Only girls are subjected to moral policing, why not try to tame your boys a bit? This carefree behaviour of men results in harassment of women and their behaviour normalises sexual harassment. In our patriarchal society, men already have a sense of superiority, and inaction towards such behaviour only affirms their notion of superiority. Men tend to have a tendency to oppress because nobody ever tried to mend their ways.
Boys are neither questioned nor corrected in our society, and this is the reason they think they have the right to do anything. Both men and women deserve equal rights, but they need to be corrected when wrong. Authorities should have fair and equal treatment towards the students to build a solid and equitable foundation.
An active grievance redressal cell with toll-free numbers for women safety.