Surbhi Walia (name changed), a month into her social science course at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), sought help after she felt she was being sexually harassed by her classmate. Her claims were brushed aside and she was told that she was making a “mountain out of a molehill.”
Walia is not alone. Like her, several women in JNU claim the defining line between friendly banter and sexual harassment is now blurred.
“Women are hardly taken seriously. When we approach authorities and tell them about episodes that qualify as sexual harassment, they ask us for details. When we tell them about how the man behaved with us, they tell us that ‘it’s not punishable’ and that it was just a friendly gesture,” said Walia.
The authorities however, argued that it was imperative for women to come out and register their complaint, no matter how insignificant.
“If students are turned away by one person, they must complain elsewhere and not ignore it.There is a very strong grievance redressal mechanism in the university,” said SK Sopory, vice chancellor, JNU.
A recently conducted survey on sexual harassment on campus revealed that 53 % of the women said they faced sexual harassment ‘once in a while’ — not only outside the campus but within it as well.
However, a widespread debate rages on campus on gender sensitisation in the university, with the academic fraternity stating that they had pulled out all stops to ensure that women felt safe, especially with the setting up of the Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment.
“One of the first things we do is conduct orientation sessions in order to sensitise the students and staff about sexual harassment. We have counseling services that help women deal with any form of trouble. When it comes to sexual harassment, cognitive action is taken as soon as a complaint is filed,” said Ayesha Kidwai, a linguistics professor.