Editorial – How safe is the campus?

It’s dark.

I look left, I look right. I don’t know if I should go down the lane to get those notes.

It seems improbable that something might happen, I am probably over-reacting. I have walked along that street so many times – but the Law of Averages – that makes things scary.

What is scarier though is the notion that someday I might look at a dimly lit street, and follow this train of thought.

I am lucky I was born in a country that doesn’t legalize honour killings. I am lucky the people I talk to think dowry deaths are a shame. But there is still somebody who thinks it is necessary to remind me time and again, that I need to be afraid of the shadows, I need to be afraid of being alone, and I need to be afraid of standing up for myself.

A recent incident in the campus, made me realise that similar incidents have happened repeatedly in the past and that they happen with varying degrees of severity. They are all unconnected, not spoken of, and gradually forgotten. Girls on campus find a way to live with misbehaviour. We dismiss it as unimportant, we ignore it. That is well, the first mistake.

Eve-teasing is a crime. It is a punishable offence.

An institution such as ours, which boasts of the educational superiority, unfortunately is also home to certain elements, which do not understand that the thin line between having fun and profaning somebody’s modesty is better uncrossed. Information about isolated incidents inside and outside the campus is suggestive of the fact that miscreants, indulging in more serious forms of harassment are often outsiders, and not students from within the campus. However a number of different forms of troublesome behaviour are persistent among the students as well. Repeated phone calls, indecent e-mails, lewd remarks on the street or during gatherings and celebrations, uncivilized behaviour in a drunken stupor, or deliberate remarks made to make a person uncomfortable during student body interactions, are also forms of harassment. The crowd sitting in front of the stage for a Fine Frenzy programme, making gestures everybody can see or groups of guys cornering girls during a concert, shoving and pushing, are instances that fill one with disgust.

Blaming the skewed sex ratio for most such cases is a dopey excuse. The whole point is not to let yourself get carried away when you are having fun, and to think before you say or do something, so you do not end up conveying something you don’t mean to.

Asking for a safe neighbourhood to live in, asking for freedom from abasement of pride, is not the same as campaigning for reservations in the Parliament. However, dismissing voices against misdemeanour such as eve-teasing, as an exaggerated feminist response is not unheard of. Moreover, perpetrators of the crime thrive on induced embarrassment in a female, which holds her back from retaliating in public. And letting the wrong-doers carry this impression, is the second mistake.

To reduce the incidence of such episodes, there is an important initiative that the Institute has taken, which students need to be aware of -

A Supreme Court ruling specifies the mandatory presence of a complaint mechanism, in every organisation, whether a Government, private or public enterprise, for redress of complaints made by victims of sexual harassment. Under these guidelines, a Standing Committee on Women was established by the Institute. The Committee now addresses a broader range of issues concerning students on Campus. The Committee comprises of faculty members and Hall Presidents of SN-IG/MT/RLB Halls of residence and is chaired by Prof.Rintu Banerjee, Dept. of A&FE. According to regulation, the Committee has to be headed by a woman and not less than 50% of the members should be women.

Victims of harassment can write to the chairperson of the Committee, explaining a particular situation. The Committee will examine the complaints and make recommendation to the Director for necessary action. All cases, where any one of the persons involved is an Institute employee or student will be taken up by the Committee. The findings of the Committee are binding on the Disciplinary authority to initiate proceedings against the guilty. In case of an outsider being involved the Committee will assist the victim in approaching the right authorities and filing an FIR.

The Committee has in the past been effective in cases such as tracing of abhorrent emails sent to girls, and in addressing individual problems, while maintaining confidentiality.

Unfortunate incidents are not restricted to a certain time of the day. Bans on night-time movement within the campus, or unnecessary security enforcement are not steps, in our opinion, that might help eliminate such instances. But an organized way of dealing with an offence, with proper provisions for both parties to put forth their points, while seeming to be a corrective measure, is also an effective preventive measure.

Better lighting of roads and alleys and thorough checking of outsiders coming into campus can help the cause. Most importantly though, it is a sense of responsibility for your own self, as well as for fellow students, that can help in best possible way.

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