Shit has Hit the Fan, Folks: Sexual Harassment Battle Continues with a Small and Sweet Victory – Kunjila

Friday, 22 January 2016

I am being advised from all corners by people who are genuinely concerned about me, my rape case against a professor, the general state of affairs on campus etc to not write the way i write. I understand everyone’s concern. Activists, lawyers, filmmakers and a lot many well-meaning people think that what i write could be used against me in court. I am aware of it but that is exactly what i want to challenge. I don’t know what will become of the case. What was important for me was for once to speak up against abuse. I did that. I can die a happy woman.

I have been chronicling the sexual harassment battle that a very small group of students are fighting against all odds. I will continue to do that. I believe that everything needs to be documented. Even if tomorrow i get killed or lose my ability to think, i won’t be worried that nobody wrote about what was done, the fight that was fought, the victories, failures, sadness, happiness and much more. I write the truth and if truth is used against me i am happy to be indicted that way.

So back to the battle.

Things were becoming increasingly difficult for us. Intimidation was in full swing. The attitude of students was the biggest problem. Even after the suspensions. the talks, the newspaper reports, the solidarity statements, students continued to be apolitical and aloof. Some of them wanted the suspended professors to be taken back. Even people who never even enjoyed their classes spun stories of how brilliant all of them were and fed it to the minds of first year students. This was on top of the fan club that the professors had created on campus while they were there.

I was seeking help from a lot of people regarding whom i could approach to talk about my case and the general atmosphere on campus. From two different sources i was directed to an NGO called Swayam, run by Ms. Anuradha Kapoor. A few of us went to them.

For the first time i felt at ease before somebody. I could speak without being judged. The major concern that we shared was how we could all have a lawyer for our hearings in the ICC. Swayam was curious where we had got the idea from. They said that the very purpose of ICC was to have a body which could handle sexual harassment charges without making the complainants go through the court proceedings. This was a relief and an epiphany for the complainants. Swayam said that they would write about the way in which ICC functions in detail to the institute. They also asked us to go the Women’s Commission to request them to do the same so that it would put some pressure on the institute. The institute was co-operative. They wrote to another NGO suggested by Swayam requesting them to send somebody who knew the exact procedure to the institute so that the ICC could function accordingly. That was done. They even answered some of the queries of the students. I saw hope. It was put out pretty soon when i heard what the Dean of the institute had been doing.

The Dean had taken all the trouble to go to a lot of students to trivialize the sexual harassment complaints. He was reported to have said things like ‘If these are the standards of sexual harassment then i would also have to be hung’, ‘If these are the standards of sexual harassment i would also have to go to jail a number of times’, ‘Modern standards of sexual harassment cannot be applied in SRFTI’ etc to both students and faculty alike. When i had gone to him with my complaint of sexual harassment against a student he had laughed the matter off. When a group of students with no power were trying to sensitize students onsexual harassment the head of the institute was busy making sexual harassment sound like it was weather.

I did not know how to tackle this problem. From where i stood (after having complained against two professors and a student) he seemed untouchable. One more complaint would gather more haters. I didn’t have the strength. But then there emerged three more students who were willing to complain and testify. Was it possible to make authorities take action against a person who did such things even though they held a superior position? What if like more than half the campus the Dean’s superiors themselves thought it was silly? We, who now included faculty and students decided to give it a try despite our weak knees. If the enquiry went against us it would mean that we would have to continue being governed by the same Dean against whom we had complained. It would be like having to live in the same house as the person who abused you because he was set free for lack of ‘proof’. Yet, we went ahead.

We went to the Chairperson of our institute and told him our problem. He was curt but assured us that he would look into the matter and that we could count on him on that. I was skeptical as always but the next day we were informed that a one person enquiry committee had been set up to investigate the matter. The person was a retired judge. We would have to testify before him. It was to be done outside the institute so that our identities could be protected. On the day we had to testify i woke up to the news that the Dean had resigned. A student had posted the news on a WhatsApp group and it was spreading like wildfire. Some students said that they already knew about it. Some were thinking about throwing a farewell party. Later in a faculty meeting the Director announced to the faculty that the Dean had resigned. Nobody had a clue about how that had happened. We went ahead to testify. We did. By evening the news was corrected as ‘the Dean had applied for voluntary retirement’. Either way it meant that he would no longer be able to talk about the ‘standards of sexual harassment which could not be applied in SRFTI’. It was a victory. Led majorly by women. Of students and professors who had their reasoning right. It was the strongest message that was sent by the institute to the student community of how serious the issue of sexual harassment was. Thank you SRFTI, for this.

The Dean admitted his guilt. His retirement application must have been approved because we don’t see him on campus anymore.

Yes, the shit has hit the fan. It is a war now. There still are students who corner other students and intimidate them. One person was asked why they had signed the collective statement in support of the complainants. They believed that that was what had led to the resignation/retirement of the Dean. People wanted to find out who had complained against the Dean. I don’t know what they were going to do to them when they got to know. Even after the suspension of three professors at one party a professor while talking about a human rights violation that had happened to some students said ‘Yes, it was bad but at least no one was raped’. It stinks so much but it’s okay because now everyone can smell and see it. It will be easier to clean. And clean we will.

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