Today one of my juniors messaged me on Facebook “What are we going to do?” And that is how I found out that a female student in EFLU, while intoxicated—and therefore unable to meaningfully consent—had been allegedly molested by her male friends, who gave her weed prior to the attack. The molestation allegedly amounted to attempted rape; I add this because any number of sexual violations are trivialised in this country and on this campus.
Hearteningly, the administration appears to be taking all the correct steps. The student has lodged an F.I.R. and routing investigation is underway. Two students have been charged and two others interrogated in this connection. These are the facts as we have discovered them from local, regional-language news-media. The administration might have—and probably has—issued a statement to the media. The media reports—one cannot be sure of the absolute truth of this statement—that the police are emphasising the presence of intoxicants and narcotics; it is certainly true that a plainclothes raid was performed by the police on the boys’ hostel in search of narcotics. Given the usual she-was-asking-for-it trend regarding the sexual abuse of intoxicated women, this is slightly terrifying news, though to be fair nothing of the sort has been said yet.
It is important that this case be handled with immediacy and transparency, not only by the legal authorities but also by the university administration in the figure of a reconstituted GSCASH partially staffed by elected student members. It is equally important that it not be regarded as an isolated, unique event, the likes of which have never happened on this campus before, nor will happen since. EFLU is a good place, as far as gender equality goes: women smoke, booze, walk around campus late at night, have active sex-lives. It is also a place where sexual harassment is rife both within romantic relationships—yes, yes, that can happen, my children, and often does—and in encounters with strangers, acquaintances, and friends. Occasionally faculty members. Often seniors. Female students are subjected to moral-policing; their feminine performativity is strictly scrutinised; their dietary, smoking, and drinking habits are investigated and treated as symptomatic of their moral character; promiscuity is treated as license, of not to rape then to sexual harassment. Good girls are expected to toe ever-shrinking lines; bad girls—defined loosely as anyone who smokes, drinks, has sex, shouts, protests, has male friends—are construed as “asking for it”.
In the past—I can speak of the past four years and change—the university administration has dealt with cases of gendered violence—be it stone-pelting or catcalling—by advising female students to restrict their activities and movement. When students have been reluctant to do so, the administration has often taken the decision into their own hands and passed edicts making these restrictions obligatory. That it has not yet done so in this case is a good sign, though it is still early days.
Rules limiting female—and indeed male—students to increasingly restricted spaces and timings are not the answer. Barring entry into hostels, or closing the academic buildings after the end of class hours, are not measures that will decrease or end sexual and gendered violence—let us also remember that same-sex violence, not all of it sexual, also occurs and cannot be talked about in our hetero-patriarchal normativity. These measures will only restrict camaraderie between students and, by suspecting all cross-gender interactions to be sexual in nature, increase the possibility of gendered violence. Rather than enforcing rules that limit female students—and also male students, though rules limiting them are few and far-between in EFLU—to classrooms, hostels, and heavily-policed spaces, the administration should embark upon and encourage gender-sensitization campaigns across campus, among students of all genders as well as among teaching and non-teaching staff.
In India, we live by default in a rape-culture, where the rape-survivor is supposed to be a living corpse and is indeed often killed by her family if she survives the assault, where the verbal harassment of women in public is seen as normal behaviour and only to be expected if one ventures out-of-doors, where domestic violence is a domestic matter and incestuous assaults on children—as well as assaults by friends and strangers—are universally treated as the fault of the attacked individual. Girls, we are told, “must have done something” to have been raped, and boys “can’t control themselves”. We prize honour and honour-killings and corrective rape above love affairs that are inter-religious, inter-caste, inter-community, or intra-sexual. Promiscuous women, prostitutes and sex-workers of various stamps are held impossible to rape since they were asking for it by having a sex-life. Marital rape is impossible; non-consensual incest is invisible and indeed legal. Respect for women increasingly involves limiting their choices, restricting them—often by force—and victim-blaming if they are assaulted while trying to live full lives, professionally and personally: including but not limited to freedom of movement, the liberty to choose their professions, go on vacations alone, go to a pub or late-night show, take walks at four in the morning if they so choose. The students in EFLU come from, and continue to inhabit this society, this hetero-normative rape-culture. Outside, and even inside, the campus this is what the students experience and what female students—not exclusively, but in far greater numbers—are subjected to.
What happened on the 31st is not an isolated incident and should not be treated as such. Nor should the response be to create an environment where female students are scared to take long walks at night, or visit their male friends, or indeed are forbidden from doing so. Today a number of students—quite a few of them male—rallied in support of the harassed complainant, and asked for non-restrictive measures to be taken by the administration and the GSCASH (among them the reconstitution of the latter statutory body, which has been defunct in EFLU for several months). This is an excellent step—and as a cynical veteran of EFLU protests and on-campus attempts at gender-equality and gender-justice, extremely reassuring to witness—but we ought not, must not, stop here.
[reproduced from a note on Facebook.]