The recent sexual harassment case in one of the renowned Film Institute in Kolkata exposed how sensitive matters like this are handled in social institutions in India. The attention had not only shifted from the problem but the college was in news for all the wrong reasons – disunion among students, in-house clashes in the administration, and a horrible blame-game. This has led to a gradual seclusion of the institution from other academic institutions in Kolkata but the worst part is despite the vulnerable situation of the complainants, they have been cold-shouldered by most. Also, the problem of under-reporting reflects the need to have augmented campus prevention systems and sustenance schemes. The uncomfortable hush surrounding the issue highlights how debates can be selective, gradually leading to misapprehensions.
The problem with our society lies in the dearth of proper understanding of what sexual harassment is and overlooking its root causes. Sexual assault is not only constrained to physical contact but it definitely starts with hooting, brushing arms, ogling or commenting such as, ‘hey bomb’, or ‘are you free tonight?’. The objectification of women by harassers and not responding to them on time gives rise to a culture where mere words can spiral into physical contact which can lead to vehemence and even rape. The most important reasons behind not reporting till date remain the dread of being made fun of and not being taken seriously. Also, not all Institutions have been pro-active in promoting their Grievance Cells in fear of getting too many complaints which might harm the college image. This is mostly why students end up withdrawing themselves and their lack of awareness about the right place or authority to approach leads to suppressing of such crimes. So, while advocating necessary changes in the entire gamut of sexual violence addressing methods, we must also change ourselves. We need a higher degree of response towards anyone, at any given situation, who we think has trespassed their limits or violated our comfort zone. We need to stand up for ourselves before expecting others to do it for us. Ignorance of the same makes the culprit figure out one’s weaknesses and thereby exploit. Until early independence era, the absence of proper ‘name’ of such issues led to anti-behavioral problems in students, like feelings of anger, continuous fear, aversion to intimacy, loss of confidence, withdrawal symptoms and even suicides.
But now, with the Supreme Court’s landmark Vishaka Judgement in 1997, its guidelines made it compulsory for all organizations to have a sexual harassment redressal mechanism. Since then obviously there has been a transferal in the understanding of sexual harassment with respect to its ambiguity earlier, as now definitions vary from ‘eve teasing’ to ‘incensing the modesty of a woman’, but the problem still persists largely.
After the Supreme Court guidelines, several universities and colleges like IIT Delhi (the first one to progress on a policy on sexual harassment) and Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi came up with unique steps to thwart the same. But not all colleges have followed similar footsteps which bring into light the emergency of proper advertising of the Women’s Development Cells in colleges, evidently articulated policies, trained authorities, approachable authorities and building a sense of security among students. Apart from that, students at personal level can help themselves by contacting a support line, listing safe places, sharing their problems with confidants, try saving evidences if and when possible or call the police. Hence, even if it’s the slightest of an issue but something that bothers you, it is your full responsibility to gather your grit and raise voice without having feared to stand alone.