It was late in the evening two years ago, and architecture student Ananya Dutta (name changed) was on her way to get something printed, in a lane outside Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture, Juhu. Suddenly, a biker brushed past her, touched her, and then drove on, smiling defiantly.
On the same road on a different day, an old man stood outside the college and watched Dutta and two of her friends as he masturbated. Dutta hurried away from the spot with her friends.
Too shocked to react, and put off by the bureaucratic and troublesome process for launching a complaint, Dutta did not take any action after these incidents. However, she did alert the college watchmen, who shooed off boys lurking outside the college, but they kept returning.
“Taking that road now sends a chill down my spine. Even when I made sure I was accompanied by someone, I faced harassment,” said Dutta.
While colleges and surrounding campuses may seem like a safe space for students, as students normally roam in large groups, and assistance — in the form of teachers or administration — are close at hand, such random acts of sexual harassment plague girls around college campuses, en route to college, or while walking from the bus stop or train station. A survey conducted by the Hindustan Times and Akshara, a women’s resource centre, found that 26 % of the 4,225 women interviewed found areas around colleges and tuition classes unsafe.
Colleges try and deal with the situation by ensuring that unsavoury characters are booted out of the campus’ vicinity, through anti-ragging squads and by encouraging students to lodge complaints, if necessary. According to Dutta, students should also be assured of support from teachers and family, in case they decide to take action. “Students must be encouraged to report incidents freely, not just those that happen outside college but at any place and be given support and confidence.”
St Andrew’s College in Bandra recently called a police officer to address students on street sexual harassment and told them how they should report a complaint. “Occasionally there are instances of eve teasing and we deal with it,” said Marie Fernandes, principal of the college.
Studies have shown that while women tend to stay quiet instead of reporting harassment, campuses are becoming more proactive. The university, as well as affiliated colleges conduct orientation workshops routinely to sensitise students.
Moreover, the Zero Tolerance Campaign, set up in the wake of the Amboli murders has also galvanised college students to speak up, spread awareness and participate in the movement for safer campuses.
Last month around 10,000 students from different campuses signed a petition for stronger laws to deal with sexual harassment. Groups of college students have also initiated campaigns such as “Freeze the Tease” and “Chappal Marungi”, exhorting young women to fight back.
“We asked women to stand up for their rights, to embarrass the harasser in public,” said Bhavya Pandit, 20, a Wilson College student and a of the group that conceptualised the Chappal Marungi campaign. “We have all faced some sort of harassment in public places.”