Trigger Warning: Sexual Harassment
“Someone tried to shove his hand down my skirt and when I resisted, he fondled my breasts. He didn’t let go even though I tried to stop him. It was a mosh pit and he got away.”
“Was groped while being pushed by the crazy crowd.”
“People were staring. It was an awkward experience. “
“Groped during Illumination and Hall days”
“Someone took the opportunity of the crowd in the DJ area and tried to grab my butt.”
It’s shocking and disheartening, that such incidents have been regular occurrences on our campus, through many years, but have gone unnoticed and unheard. Illumination, IIT Kharagpur’s annual Diwali celebration, Kshitij, and Spring Fest—the college fests and Hall Days, when the Halls of Residence are open to everyone— these are the times when the campus is supposed to be celebrating what is called “togetherness” and “tradition”. But women on campus go through the unnecessary trauma of inappropriate treatment and gross behavior (read sexual harassment).
In order to sensitise and create awareness among the campus community about this issue, we, The Scholars’ Avenue conducted a survey among the women on campus. The form asked if they had been mistreated or inappropriately touched or made uncomfortable in any way on campus. An alarming 42% of the respondents said yes.
Some were groped by a random guy in the crowd, some were catcalled, some were followed on dim-lit roads by guys on bikes or for some, a guy was staring and making one feel uneasy—every girl on campus has one of these stories of sexual harassmentb and some of these have become so normalised that girls have learned to live with it. To every teen looking to join college, college looks very promising. It promises a safe haven and a sense of freedom. However, such incidents of sexual harassment deny such promises of liberation.
Why? Why does this happen in an institute where the ‘cream of the nation’s youth’ study and in one that is supposed to be a place of liberal, rational, and progressive thought? Why isn’t any effective action taken?
Because, come what may, at the end of the day, society thinks it is the girl who is to be blamed.
‘People were staring and making you feel uncomfortable?‘
“You shouldn’t wear these clothes or why even go out.”
‘Report being inappropriately touched?’
“Your fault. You didn’t hit him back or report it immediately. Now we can’t do anything about it”.
At the heat of the moment, when, out of nowhere, in a crowd of hundreds a guy touches us inappropriately, most of us simply freeze. Our minds and bodies go numb. We can’t just think straight. It is not as simple as an “I hit you, you hit me back” scenario.
Most of these incidents go unreported. In an institute where student suicides have been put away as “fell while playing”, you can’t really expect much action to be taken when incidents clearly lack quantitative and qualitative evidence. It’s already disturbing enough recalling the incident. Narrating the incident again and again when there seem to be slim chances of effective action being taken is something most wouldn’t want to go through.
And many a time, whenever the guy is confronted about his inappropriate conduct, he and many others immediately gaslight the girl, somehow manipulating her into psychologically believing that something is wrong with her, her physical appearance, and her sanity. No, sexual harassment is not her fault. It is the harasser who should take accountability for his actions if he is at fault, and understand that sexual harassment and mistreatment of women is not the “fun thing to do”. It is totally unjustifiable.
There is also a factor of ignorance of whom to approach. The immediate course of action for most girls would be to tell their friends and then think of approaching the hostel warden or the guard or the concerned authorities. Lots of cases of sexual harassment are closed due to lack of evidence and the majority of the society starts deeming such cases as ‘fake cases’ and the complainants as “attention-seeking women”.Lack of evidence doesn’t mean it did not happen. Many women are harassed and there are no witnesses. This does not mean they are lying.
The survey asked for the description of the place and most of them said it happened in dim-lit and overcrowded areas. College campus roads with little to no light or mosh pits during college fests, overcrowded Halls of Residence during festivities when everyone barges in, skipping queues and jumping barriers—these guys take advantage of the vulnerability of the situation and try to do what they abhorrently justify as “just fulfilling one’s pleasure” and “just for fun”.
So, what would be the best solution to this problem?
Know that anybody’s body or their actions are not something of your governing. Talk to your parents, friends, or your hostel warden about what you have gone through. If a friend of yours comes up to you and talks to you about what she has gone through, do not look down upon her and treat her as someone who is to be secluded from everyone. She is just looking for some comfort and compassion.
Stop blaming women for something which is NOT their fault and something they have no control over. Create awareness about sexual harassment on campus. College campuses in India need better places for people to talk about something traumatic they have gone through and not feel guilty or contaminated by it.
After all, the campus is supposed to be a “home away from home” for everyone. Let’s not delude women this.
PS- The form received over 100 responses (despite the form being anonymous, a few women did not mind revealing their identity). The number of women who had to undergo various ordeals is sickeningly large despite the sample space being pretty limited.
We owe this piece to the women who were kind enough to take time and fill out the form. Many thanks and much appreciated.
Gouri Rajaram is a Reporter at The Scholars’ Avenue, and a sophomore at the Dept. of Biotechnology, IIT Kharagpur. She regards writing as a powerful medium to bring about change and believes that embracing different gender and cultural identities goes a long way in achieving equality. She is an admirer of Dr. S.I Padmavati, India’s first female cardiologist, particularly admiring her resolve in carving a distinguished niche in a male-dominated field. She likes to write, play badminton and squash, listen to Indian Classical music and occasionally play the harmonium. You can find her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Featured Image Source: Youth Ki Awaaz