Often, it is the college campus itself which proves to be the site of harassment, with fellow classmates, or teachers, being the harassers.
“At the college-level, harassment mingles with attention seeking and becomes uncomfortable,” said Priyadarshini Ohol, 28, an engineering student who was harassed by a group of college mates some years ago. This harassment also permeates beyond the campus boundaries, through text messages, and phone calls. Apart from being constantly stared at, Ohol’s email account was hacked , she was pestered with incessant phone calls.
In 2007, a study by Akshara, a women’s resource centrefound that while 61% of the female student respondents reported being harassed and 50% of the male student respondents had witnessed harassment and 39.1% of all student respondents said they were unaware of a redressal mechanism. “Harassment at college level takes on a few distinctive forms,” said Nandita Gandhi, co-director, Akshara. “There is the teacher-student variety where there is a definite power relation, then there is also the MMS-SMS variety which college students particularly indulge in.”
In 2002, the University of Mumbai issued a circular asking all colleges to set up women’s development cells at the college level. The cells are meant to look into instances of harassment at the college-level. Five years later, Akshara found only l0% of colleges had such a cell in place.
Despite the dismal results, the situation has improved, said university officials. “Students are more bold now and cells are more active” said Kranti Jejurkar, chairperson of the university’s women’s development cell.
In the past six years, the university cell has compiled nearly 50 complaints (including from colleges cells). The university cell only takes up cases if the complaint is against a management official or college principal or at the post-graduate level. If at the college level either of the parties is unhappy with the decision, they can appeal to the university cell.
Complaints come not just from students, but also teachers and Class IV employees. The university WDC for instance, recently dealt with a case where a teacher was being incessantly harassed by phone and text message by a male student. “We withheld the result of the student, spoke to him, then he apologised,” said Jejurkar.