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24% JNU girl students face sexual harassment

24% JNU girl students face sexual harassment

ABHIMANYU SINGH  New Delhi | 31st Aug 2013

Even Ganga Dhaba at the Jawaharlal Nehru University is not free from instances of sexual harassment. The photograph is used for representational purposes only. PHOTOGRAPH: Abhishek Shukla

ne in four female students on the supposedly progressive campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University in the national capital faces sexual harassment and gender related abuse in her relationship.

According to a survey being conducted by some faculty members on the campus to determine the extent of sexual harassment and gender related abuse, around 24% of girl students, out of the approximately 600 interviewed, admitted to being in abusive relationships. This was revealed to The Sunday Guardian by a teacher who is part of the team conducting the survey, on the condition of anonymity.

The faculty members behind the exercise plan to make their report public as soon as it is completed.

The survey throws up other statistics that pose a question mark on the campus' claim of being an enlightened space, which allows for interaction between the members of opposite sexes on the basis of equality.

What is worse is that despite being in such relationships, girls do not come forward to seek the assistance of the campus' quasi-judicial body, Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH).

According to the survey, out of 40% of the girls in abusive relationships who considered approaching GSCASH, less than 1% went ahead and did so.

Even Ganga Dhaba, much celebrated for opening late into the night and providing much-needed succour for the campus' students to continue their epistemological enquiries, is not free from instances of sexual harassment. While much is made of the fact that the girls can move about late in night on the streets of JNU without any fear, the survey suggests otherwise. Around 58% of the girls interviewed have faced sexual harassment at Ganga Dhaba, the survey found out.

What is worse is that despite being in such relationships, girls do not come forward to seek the assistance of the campus’ quasi-judicial body, Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment.

Questions regarding JNU's status as the torch-bearer of liberal and progressive values, at least in the area of gender equality, have begun to do the rounds increasingly after Akash, a BA final student of the Korean centre in the School of Language, Literature, and Culture Studies attacked a girl from the same centre with an axe during a lecture. 

Just days after this gruesome incident, Abhinandan Verma, a student of the Spanish centre from the same school, slapped a girl and tried to strangle her in public, as per media reports. Verma had completed his BA from the university.

Ayesha Kidwai, a professor in the department of Linguistics, SLL&CS, and active campaigner for gender rights, said: "Cases of gender violence have increased on the campus."

A growing sentiment among the students is that SLL &CS is more prone to such incidents as it admits students in undergraduate courses, the only school which does that. SLL &CS offers graduation in foreign languages, including French, Spanish and others.

Khaliq Parkar, an MPhil student in the Centre of Political Studies, explaining why undergraduate students are likely to be more prone to such acts said, "(It is a) combination of hormones, influences, rigid social structures back home, an extremely liberal space and lack of structures to cope with drastic changes." He added: "The rest of the campus considers them an immature group."

Citing media exposure- for example, a film like Raanjhana, based ostensibly on JNU, in which the lead actor stalks the female protagonist - and peer pressure, Parkar said that undergraduate students were expected to have a girlfriend. "Sexual harassment is one of the many ways in which their inability to cope manifests (itself) in," said Parkar.

However, according to the survey being conducted by faculty members, the partners of girls who admitted to being in abusive relationships are from different departments in the university, not just from the undergraduate courses in SLL &CS.

According to a GSCASH member, blaming only undergraduate students "is not the correct way to approach it. They have been here since the beginning."

Nevertheless, faculty members point out that undergraduate students do face certain specific problems. Said a professor from one of the departments: "Earlier, when BA students lived in Ganga hostel, the administration asked the senior students living in Kaveri and Periyar hostels to go live with their juniors (in Ganga hostel). Sitaram Yechury was one of the senior students who chose to do so." Yechury is a senior leader of the CPM who honed his political chops in the hurly-burly of JNU's political atmosphere. According to the professor, staying with seniors ensured that juniors had the right guidance.

The Lyngdoh Commission, which imposed certain restrictions upon conducting student body elections all over the country, is being held responsible for its "deleterious" effects on the campus culture. The lack of guidance for new students, especially younger ones, is related to the working of the Lyngdoh Commission, many teachers and students believe.

Since JNU students did not agree to all the recommendations made by the Commission, the campus went without elections for four years. For a lot of people on campus, this signifies the lack of sensitisation of the students who joined during this period to the ethos of the campus. "It is a political-cultural downfall. People come from different backgrounds to JNU, bringing with them their own samsakaras ( values). Earlier, political parties used to engage the new students, even if their ultimate goal was capturing votes," said a senior student. With the decline in political activities during those four years, political parties lost their hold over students, according to students and faculty members. Subsequently, this gave rise to individualism and a materialist-consumerist culture on campus, similar to the world that lies just outside the campus' so-called hallowed portals.

Sudhanshu Lal, a PhD student in the Korean Centre, pointed out that "betrayal of students' interests by political parties over the years also contributed to the rise of individualism on campus".

The changing profile of teachers in the campus is also being considered a reason for the wayward behaviour of certain students. According to a faculty member, interaction between teachers and students has gone down. While teachers are becoming more focused on furthering their careers, students are keener on making money by getting part-time jobs and other assignments. "This reduces the time they spend in interacting with each-other," said a senior faculty member.

An ugly aspect of teacher-student relations in JNU remains the spectre of sexual harassment. An EPW article on a panel discussion held on gender issues earlier this year in JNU quotes Kidwai as saying that not a single girl who complained of sexual harassment at the hand of her teacher could complete her education.

A GSCASH member told this newspaper that teachers on the campus particularly resent the functioning of the body. "Posters have been taken out against GSCASH by faculty members," said the member. "Currently, another teacher accused of gender harassment is conducting an e-mail campaign against one of our members," added the member.

Teachers aside, some students also express dissatisfaction on the workings of the body. Said Kumar Jitendra, a student in Japanese Centre: "Identities of people whose cases are heard at GSCASH becomes known to others. Why is such information leaking out from there?"

Curiously, in its annual report this year, uploaded on JNU's website, the body admits facing difficulties due to the lack of a photocopy machine of its own.

Pia David, a student in the Centre for Political Studies, suggested that every class should have two representatives, male and female, to deal with issues of gender harassment. "Hopefully, it will not turn in to a Soviet Eye kind of thing. It needs political will to resolve such issues," said David.

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