The worldwide #MeToo movement recently had its manifestation in the city of Kolkata as allegations regarding several sexual molesters came cropping up in the social media. The environment of harassment and casual sexism has always been a part and parcel of the universities in Kolkata. But during this movement, two universities which are perceived to be ‘elite intellectual spaces’ became the focal point—Jadavpur University and Presidency University. In this piece, I being a post graduate from Presidency University and a survivor of sexual abuse by an individual from the same campus, would like to share my lived experiences.
On the 2nd of May, I had written about a case of sexual abuse which I had faced on June, 2018 in Jadavpur University by a student of Presidency University, Ayan Chakraborty. I knew Chakraborty as my university junior, and talked to him for over a month, through texts which often had sexual connotations and was consensual. After that, we decided to meet at Jadavpur University where we had been intimate to some extent.
However, Ayan Chakraborty started to make me feel uncomfortable. I decided to withdraw consent for any further acts of being intimate with him. He ignored my words and discomfort and coerced me to perform oral sex. He kept on forcing me to have intercourse even after I said a resounding “NO”, repeatedly. He kept on compelling me in every way possible, but finally as I didn’t cooperate at all, he had to stop.
Three more individuals shared their similar experiences of abuse against this same person and many other accusations of ex students came up in the process, debunking the myth of the ‘progressive’ space that Presidency claims itself to be.
Our University doesn’t have a Gender Sensitization Committee Against Sexual Harassment GSCASH, nor does it follow the Vishakha Guidelines, which ideally should be followed. It has Presidency University Committee Against Sexual Harassment (PUCASH) Act of 2013, which doesn’t accept cases which have occurred more than three months ago. It also doesn’t allow any student representative (elected by the students themselves) to be a part of the committee.
Due to these rules, I was not sure whether the committee would accept my case. Hence, I mailed it to the Dean Of Students and requested him to take some relevant action. Simultaneously, as I was aware of the culture of harassment present within this University for a long time I decided to pen it down on Facebook, in an attempt to make others aware. I was hoping more survivors will gather the courage to voice against their oppression.
I knew that in Presidency University, many allegations were lodged earlier against politically influential individuals in the campus spaces, and in the due course of time all such cases were suppressed due to the advantageous power positions the accused enjoyed. Being aware of this culture of sheltering and enabling accusers who are politically influential, it became extremely necessary for me to unmask the name of the perpetrator, since he himself also belonged to a political platform.
After my narrative, numerous such narratives kept pouring in. Three more individuals shared their similar experiences of abuse against this same person and many other accusations of ex students came up in the process, debunking the myth of the ‘progressive’ space that Presidency claims itself to be.
A few days later, PUCASH declared a date of the hearing for myself, and another student of the Bengali department who had also lodged a formal complaint against Ayan Chakraborty. During the entire course of the movement, the authority remained bleakly responsive about the matter and when the students posted regular deputations wanting a redrafting of the committee policies or inclusion of student representatives in the same, the committee declared a ridiculous stand of postponing the hearing till the date of their choice, because they thought that the atmosphere is not ‘safe enough’ for an impartial judgement.
Our demand of debarring the alleged perpetrator from entering the campus to ensure safety of the students made them feel that we are trying to impose a biased verdict upon the perpetrator. Henceforth, we started a sit-in demonstration for four days demanding a date of hearing to be declared at the earliest, to which also the authority exhibited no concern and stated that until they are feeling safe in the campus they are not going to decide on a date of hearing, and further showed their insensitivity towards the issue.
Initially, after this we withdrew our protest and decided to reject the committee for their continuous harassment and insensitivity towards the survivors and the cases, but later we changed our decision and decided to go through the process formally as otherwise it might favour the accused and he might get away with it. After a week they declared a date of hearing and I attended it. On the 8th of July, after 20 days they have released our verdicts and I quote the same—
“Dear Brishti Sen Banerjee, I am directed to inform you that the incident (Brishti Sen Banerjee against Ayan Chakraborty) that you mentioned took place one year ago and that too not within the premises under the jurisdiction of Presidency University. As it is a case older than six months and there is no personal overlap at present, this matter does not come under the purview of PUCASH, (subject to the relevant provision of rules and regulations of PUCASH). However the committee appreciates that all parties have identified their status of mental health problems arising from their sexuality. It will be further appreciated if they take the help of mental health specialists for appropriate training/orientation.“
In the case of the other complainant, a similar verdict has been given. Her case has been nullified as the accused has denied all the charges.
Until the individuals are held accountable for their misconduct, the survivors shall continue to be shamed and questioned for deciding to come out in the open with their narratives.
In this context, few questions should be addressed.
Firstly, before taking up the case they knew about the time frame and that it didn’t fit to the rules and regulations of the PUCASH Act of 2013. So why did they take up the case and pretend to be sensitive towards it and promised a zero tolerance behaviour repeatedly?
Secondly, in which case does the accused accept his fault and appear guilty at once? The committee didn’t even give us the chance to cross question the accused before reaching to a verdict.
Thirdly, what do they exactly mean by stating we should go through an appropriate training/orientation? What kind of training and for which reason?
This verdict raises grave concerns about the future of Presidency University. Instances of sexual abuse have always been hushed up within the campus spaces and the survivors (in most cases, the women) didn’t always have the courage to come up with their narratives in the public space. The inefficiency of the PUCASH has always been a reason for the students in general for not lodging formal complaints and this extremely regressive and insensitive verdict further reassures us of their incompetency.
Hence, if the structure of the committee doesn’t go through a radical reformation, the goal to make the campus a safe and gender sensitized place cannot be achieved. Until the individuals are held accountable for their misconduct, the survivors shall continue to be shamed and questioned for deciding to come out in the open with their narratives, as the recent movement has clearly demonstrated. The safety of the campus space shall continue to be under threat as long as perpetrators such as Chakraborty and others have free access to this space despite the huge wave of allegations that have come up.
Brishti Sen Banerjee is a postgraduate in Sociology from Presidency University, Kolkata.
Featured Image Source: The Telegraph