Predators Prowling On Campus
Cases of sexual harassment on the rise In Indian universities
After the brutal sexual assault incident in the Indian Institute of Technology, Benaras Hindu University (IIT-BHU) campus, similar incidents have resurfaced, raising questions over the the safety of female students.
From rape to sexual assaults and sexual harrasment, well known university campuses have become a nightmare for the female students. And while this is not a new phenomenon, fingers are being raised towards inefficient college administrations and silence from the police and government authorities over the issues.
There is massive outrage in the IIT-BHU campus in Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi as the horrific incident of a student being harassed surfaced. The incident reportedly happened on November 2. The same day students demonstrated inside the campus in large numbers.
A 20-year-old student had said that she was molested on campus by three motorbike-borne men. However, it was later reported that three unidentified men gang raped the student.
Initially, in her report the student had alleged that alleged culprits molested her. She alleged that the three unidentified men forcibly kissed her, then disrobed her and then filmed videos and clicked photos of her.
The IIT-BHU falls within the larger BHU campus, which is spread over 1,300 acres (5.3 square km) and is one of Asia’s largest residential campuses.
The incident, according to the student’s complaint, happened when she, along with a male friend, had stepped out for a walk near her hostel at around 1:30 am Thursday.
The student said that the incident happened near the Karman Baba temple in the campus, where a bike carrying three people ambushed her and her male friend from behind. The men separated the two and dragged the girl to a corner while covering her mouth, she said in her complaint.
The miscreants then forcibly kissed her, disrobed her and clicked videos and photos of her, she said.
“When I screamed for help, they threatened to kill me,” the student stated in her police complaint. The men held her for 10-15 minutes and secured her phone number before letting her go. The student hid in a professor’s residence nearby fearing a repeat of the attack.
An FIR was lodged against three unidentified persons under assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe, criminal intimidation and relevant sections of the Information Technology Act.
However, the Varanasi Police later added gang rape to the FIR.
Speaking to The Citizen Chanda Yadav, student at BHU and member of AISA, said that the university administration had refused to acknowledge the gang rape part for almost a week.
“From November 2 to 9, the administration said that the matter is that of eve teasing, but the victim went to the magistrate and reveals that she was gang raped. A narrative was set in the campus by just calling it gang rape,” she said.
Yadav averred that this is not an isolated incident. “In January, a differently abled student was molested after which the administration did not do anything for which she sat on indefinite strike,” she said.
On January 24, a differently abled girl student was allegedly molested by a youth on the pretext of offering her a life. Initially, the administration allegedly did not hear the student’s plea, but after the protest an FIR was registered.
But despite the allegations, the police did not put stringent acts in the FIR. the students at BHU have time and again raised the issue of sexual harassment in the university that go ignored.
“This is the fault of the administration because if harassment cases are coming at the forefront continuously and the complaints are reaching the authorities, then why do they not raise the security,” she asks.
The BHU authorities did not get back to The Citizen after they reached out to them for queries. At the moment, regular protests are being witnessed inside the campus.
However, BHU cannot be seen as the only university or educational institution where women are being subjected to harassment.
In Delhi’s Jamia Hamdard University, a 20-year-old student was threatened at gunpoint and allegedly forcefully tied up inside in a campus restroom by two men on November 3.
In her complaint to police, she said she was studying in the library when she heard a noise from the toilet. On entering it, she saw two persons with a pistol. They threatened the student after which she collapsed. When she got up, she found her limbs tied with a scarf.
An FIR was lodged under sections of molestation, wrongful confinement, act endangering life, and Arms Act on November 4. No arrest has been made yet in the case.
In a statement to the media, the university spokesperson said that they couldn’t verify the incident and they are “still looking into her complaint.”
The spokesperson said: “We checked CCTV footage with the police. There was nobody around when she was studying… We did not receive a call or SOS message when she was tied up… The two friends she called for help are not our students.”
The student, however, said she was singled out after complaining about what happened to her inside the campus. She also mentioned feeling ostracised for raising concerns about security lapses in the university.
The student also said she was rescued by two security guards, hospitalised at Jamia Hamdard Medical College, and an ambulance was called under the proctor’s direction.
However, no action has been taken till now. When The Citizen spoke to the female students in the campus, they said eve teasing has become fairly common, making the students fear their safety.
Zainab (name changed on request), an undergraduate student in the university said that there is no accountability and checking on the coming and going of people inside the campus. “There is no checking,” she said.
The student, who herself had faced sexual harassment inside the campus said that unknown men had entered the college during a festival and said harassed her. “When I raised the issue and questioned him, he apologised. But I have seen him before and I am sure he regularly does that,” she said.
She pointed out that the administration has done nothing for the safety of the girls and the recent incident is the major example. “The university, on the other hand, issued a notice saying anyone seen spreading rumours will face the consequences,” she said.
The circular, which was also doing rounds on social media, stated that the university officials will take “strict actions” against anyone spreading “false rumours”. This comes despite the fact that the FIR is already registered.
The helplessness and anger by the students in both BHU and Jamia Hamdard is collective. The disappointment towards the college and the government authorities, and their sheer negligence has once again opened old wounds.
While the Central government talks of their campaign “beti bachao, beti padhao (save daughters, educate daughters),” we see an influx of harassment cases in the universities. On the other hand, the girls are asked to wear “appropriate clothes” so as to not garb the “attention” of the men, insinuating that it is the woman who has to take considerable actions so that she is not harassed or raped.
In 2022, students from several girls’ hostels in Lucknow University raised their voices against what they call ‘discriminatory’ hostel rules.
The students alleged that the administration put restrictions on girls like no ‘outings’ after 10 p.m for boys and 8 p.m for girls in hostels.
Allegedly, a group of Subhas Hostel inmates went out late at night for tea at the university's canteen on December 17, 2022 where they entered into a brawl with cops who apparently objected to students gathering there. The students alleged that the cops hit them after they failed to show their identity cards, as a result of which a few students got injured.
A masters’ student at Lucknow University (name withheld to prevent harassment) while speaking to The Citizen said that the campus environment has witnessed a repulsive environment, wherein men and boys’ comment on female students.
“In canteens the environment is quite repressive, and comments are passed on the girls’ dresses,” she said. She emphasised that while most of the time perpetrators are men, the constraints are put on girl’s hostels.
“I am not saying the time should be extended till late at night but the timing of the boys’ hostel should also be constrained,” she added.
Zainab, who also raised the point of hostel timings, said that the impact of any harassment falls on girls’ hostels. “If it is men that harass women, shouldn’t their times be taken into consideration rather than the man’s,” she asked.
Harassment during college festivals have sadly become a norm and despite repeated incidents every year, the administration of the universities, instead of taking actions to tighten the security, put restrictions on students.
In April, this year, students of Delhi University’s Indraprastha College for Women (IPCW) complained that unidentified men trespassed into the college, shouted slogans, and harassed women during the annual college festival. Visuals of men climbing on the wall of the college campus had also surfaced on social media.
Meanwhile, in 2020 another Delhi University’s all women college Gargi witnessed mass scale molestation cases. On February 6, a group of men entered the women’s college and allegedly molested several students.
It was during the performance of a singer in the college that men, unknown men, who were initially not allowed to enter the campus or show IDs groped, molested several students and girls in attendance.
Many students had alleged that their clothes were also torn. This created a huge uproar with questions raised on the campus security. There too the administration did nothing to calm the situation down and threatened the students with consequences.
Universities like DU have an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to look into such matters and address the grievances of the students. However, many believe that the committee has failed to do anything in such matters.
Speaking to The Citizen, Neha Bora, a student at Delhi’s Ambedkar University and Secretary at AISA said that many of the previous committees were replaced by the ICC, who hasn’t done much to address the issues. “The ICC is a committee where the administration dominates the student bodies and those students have no answerability. This is because they have the favours from the administration and is the reason they were nominated. So, they feel no pressure in talking about gender sensitisation in campus space,” Bora said.
As the current political scenario is changing the country, students felt the impact of it can be seen in universities.