- By Mahak Shinghal
“Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) has come across a number of cases, wherein sexual harassment takes place among close friends. Boys generally cross (sometimes advertently, sometimes inadvertently) the thin line between friendship’s bantering and sexual harassment. Girls are supposed to know how to draw a tangible line (between them and their male friends) to avoid any such harassments.”
This is a circular released by the Internal Complaints Committee [“ICC”] of Jawaharlal Nehru University [“JNU”] in December, 2021. The circular states “[g]irls are supposed to know…” Why is this misogynistic and sexist mentality still prevalent in the current times? Why do people always blatantly blame the victim for any such incidents? Why do girls have to draw a line to stop such harassments?
The circular was issued by ICC amid the rise in a number of sexual harassment complaints from the university. JNU then took the initiative to conduct counselling sessions for the students wherein the “girls” would be taught how to draw a line to avoid such harassments.
The ICC Presiding Officer Punam Kumari is reported to have said, “We get several complaints where sexual harassment cases take place between men and women who are close friends. They touch each other, hug each other. But the moment women feel that they don’t feel comfortable about this, they should state this clearly to their male friend. Till the time they don’t speak, and if they keep it to themselves, then it doesn’t work. If he continues to do it despite being told, then the ICC is there.”
After hearing the remark, the JNU Student’s Union President, Aishe Ghosh said it was a victim shaming remark. “The ICC time and again in JNU has passed such regressive remarks or conducted itself in a way to moral police the survivor,” she said in a statement.
“Such a remark, creates a space where harassment in such lines will become rampant and will lead to become an unsafe space for women,” Ghosh said.
Why should the girls be taught alone? It is high time that our boys should be taught how to respect a woman and how to behave with a woman. It is high time that we teach the harassers how they should avoid harassing girls and not the victim how to avoid being harassed. Even if a girl is someone’s close friend, it does not give a right to the boys to sexually harass them.
Tagging the circular on Twitter, NCW chairperson, Rekha Sharma said, “Why all the teachings are always for girls alone? Time to teach harassers not the victims. The misogynist circular of #JNU should be withdrawn. Internal committee should have victim-centred approach and not otherwise.”
Past Incidences of Sexism in Universities
There are many colleges and universities across India, which have implemented sexist rules only for women. In 2017, Himadri hostel at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi had put up a notice asking women to wear “full covered decent western or Indian dresses” on their house day.
Calling it an act of moral policing, a member of Pinjra Tod said, “Why do our administrators feel this desperate need to police women wear.”
And it’s not just female students, who are victims of sexism. The situation is equally bad for professors in some colleges. RMD College in Chennai restrained a professor clad in jeans from entering the college campus.
Such rules led to the formation of Pinjra Tod, a collective of young college-going women, formed to protest against such regressive rules. It was actually Pinjra Tod that brought the IIT Delhi incident to everybody’s notice by posting it on their social media.