A women’s college’s cultural festival in the national capital. Unknown men enter the campus that’s supposed to be secured and guarded to protect the students. They grope and sexually harass women inside the campus.
Sounds bizarre and yet, it is true. Students of Gargi College, under the University of Delhi, witnessed horrific scenes unfold on the 6th of February during their annual fest “Reverie”.
While this has put the administration under the scanner, it raises a very important question for all of us:
HOW SAFE DO WOMEN FEEL GOING TO COLLEGE IN DELHI?
Let’s try and find out.
A normal day in a student’s life is made up of going to the college, attending classes, participating in college activities, and coming back home.
Before I discuss educational spaces in particular,let us see how safe women feel in Delhi, here are a few data points we all need to consider.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, Delhi topped the list of cities in India when it came to the number of crimes committed against women in 2017. Further, in a study conducted by an NGO Praja Foundation, 47% of women feel insecure while travelling within the city. Combine these two data points together, with the fact that commuting within the city via public transport is an integral part of receiving higher education, and we can see how that affects the level of safety for the average women student.
Feeling unsafe while commuting has strong implications on education. According to a study conducted by Girija Borker which used Google Maps and mobile applications such as “Safetipin” and “Safecity” to map out the movement of students between their homes and colleges; women tend to choose to go to worse colleges than men for safety reasons.
By surveying 2700 Delhi University students, she observed that women pick lower ranked colleges that are closer to their homes to avoid commuting via certain routes and modes of transport.
In addition, she also found that women also spend more money than the entire tuition fees to travel via longer metro route and autos than public buses because they feel safer travelling via metros and autos.
The Nirbhaya Fund, which was created to ensure safety for women in public places, has also clearly failed in its objectives then. According to a December 2019 estimate based on data provided by the government, around 89% of the sanctioned funds were not used. Now, in a country where the women’s enrolment in higher education is 48.6%, these figures become very crucial.
Now moving on to the next stage of a student’s day: moving around campus. After the gruesome rape of Jyoti Singh in December 2012 in Delhi, and the enactment of the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act in 2013, the UGC setup a committee to recommend measures to enhance the safety of women on university campuses.
As a result, the “Saksham” report was created in 2013. This report recommended having counselling sessions and gender sensitization programs on a regular basis. The report also observed that despite previous UGC guidelines, the Internal Complaint Committees were ill-equipped to handle sexual harassment cases. It also suggested how these committees must be formed with student and faculty representatives to combat sexual harassment on campuses.
Now, the report also reinforced that policing and monitoring the movement of women is detrimental to the autonomy and freedom that students should be provided with. However, in April 2015, the UGC issued another set of guidelines which suggested surveillance measures such as installing CCTV cameras to check on women students, and escalation in wall heights for hostels and campuses.
This constant idea of “protecting” women and working in their “best interests” is infantilizing in nature, and goes completely against the notion of empowerment through higher education, highlighting a larger institutional issue with how we see women students.
Also, cases where women have faced harassment and objectification on campus arise time and again. The clean chit given to Atul Johri, a Professor at JNU, who was accused by at least 9 women in an Internal Complaints Committee appeal, continues to be a matter of debate. The problem is also not just limited to Delhi, in Kerala, an assistant professor Jouhar Munavvi, was accused of objectifying women and moral policing them on their dressing when he said that women students “dress in a way so as to reveal part of their breasts like a slice of watermelon”.
The use of such language is disturbing to any individual but these are just a couple of examples; the list goes much longer. Such instances pose a big threat to women safety and freedom in our colleges. It poses a challenge to the inclusive environment of equal opportunity we wish to create in our country.
The numerous controversies surrounding The ICCs across various colleges in Delhi and the lack of proper implementation of such bodies is another issue to be tackled. When the people who are supposed to help you out are the ones telling you what to wear and where to go and not, it becomes a really complicated problem.
The mental trauma, and the constant looking over one’s shoulder, are just a few aspects of the consequences of these incidents. They have much more drastic and long term implications too.
Coming back to the Gargi College incident, a student alleged that the principal Promila Kumar said that “If you feel unsafe, don’t come to these fests” during a personal interaction. There is also news of a similar incident that had taken place last year at the same fest.
The Delhi District Court has sent the 10 arrested for the incident to 14 days of judicial custody. At the same time, the College administration announced elections for student reps in the Internal Complaints Committee on Feb 28 which is a positive step in the right direction.
However, with all these instances and factors, it is hard to say that we have developed an overall safe and secure educational experience for the women students of our country. If women students do not feel safe getting an education, we can not expect an equal society to flourish.