Students in India fighting sexual harassment and patriarchal oppression of women

20 April 2012

Fight to strengthen GSCASH by making it a PUNITIVE BODY!

Every issue is a woman’s issue and no issue is a woman’s issue alone!

Fight to strengthen GSCASH by making it a PUNITIVE BODY!

Hold high the red banner of revolutionary women’s movement

 against feudalism, patriarchy & state repression!

Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) was instituted in JNU in accordance with the Supreme Court guidelines in the Vishakha Judgment for the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace. It was the students’ movement of this campus which demanded that GSCASH be put in place, as a result of which in 1998 it became the first such body to be established in the entire country. The progressive student’s movement also ensured elected students’ representation in GSCASH along with representation from all other sections of the campus. GSACSH was mandated to spearhead and strengthen the movement for a gender-just campus by fighting sexual harassment and patriarchy in all forms. Unfortunately, the institution seems to have replaced (or displaced) the movement rather than complementing it. And so, it has been easy for the administration to attack and weaken the GSCASH over the last few years. Today GSCASH stands severely weakened and constrained due to deliberate administrative assaults as well as in absence of a vibrant students’ struggle or women’s movement around it.

Even some of the so-called progressive organisations like AISA and SFI, while being in responsible positions of JNUSU, are complicit in undermining GSCASH by repeatedly defending sexual harassers even after they were found guilty by this body. Recently, none of these organisations raised any opposition when GSCASH elections too were brought under the purview of reactionary Lyngdoh recommendations. AISA and SFI had already surrendered JNUSU and its constitution to Lyngdoh, and therefore had no issues with GSCASH too being controlled through Lyngdoh. It was only because of the timely intervention of the student community along with DSU that GSCASH elections were separated from Lyngdoh-regulated JNUSU elections, and we now have GSCASH elections which are free from the discriminatory and meritocratic clauses of Lyngdoh. However, we must not forget that while we have successfully defended GSCASH from the clutches of Lyngdoh, unless we continue the struggle against Lyngdoh and intensify the students’ movement, any possibility of progressive change in the campus – including the strengthening of GSCASH – will be seriously jeopardised.

 GSCASH in the past few years has been reduced to a body simply for ‘sensitization’ of gender issues on campus. ‘Sensitisation’ or changing the consciousness towards gender and gender-based discrimination has its own importance. It undoubtedly encourages criticality about the given gender norms and roles. The problem comes when we merely stop at that. The structures of oppression that surround us need to be questioned, fought and ultimately smashed. Sensitization, debates, discussions and consensus-building can meaningfully address people who are willing to listen. However, we must think in terms of concrete programmatic action to challenge the very structures of patriarchy. Patriarchy, strengthened by semi- feudal semi-colonial social relations will not be defeated only by talking politely on its face. Ensuring punishment to sexual harassers is a primary precondition of ensuring justice, enhancing women’s space and building a gender-sensitive campus. GSCASH till now is not a punitive body in JNU. All it can do is to recommend punishment to the administration. The VC holds the discretionary power to implement or set aside the recommendations.

We know the manner in which this patriarchal administration has time and again shielded sexual harassers and lumpens and has blatantly tried to restrict mobility of women students on campus. Scores of sexual harassers, despite found guilty by the GSCASH, go unpunished because of administrative shielding, especially if the guilty is some influential faculty member. Making GSCASH a punitive body is thereby one of the foremost challenges that the students’ community must fight to win without further delay.

Patriarchy manifests itself in various ways. Some of them are so blatant and physical (like rape, molestation, assault) that they shock us, and few can deny the need to act against them. Some, on the other hand, are less obvious: stares, comments, gestures, ‘jokes’ and innuendoes … the so-called ‘small things’. These are ways of harassing women without even touching them. When a woman’s body is compared with an object, when an exhibit is made out of her body, when ‘item numbers’ are played as the women students walk up to the stage, or the hootings made at every cultural function, it makes that woman (and other women) an object to be consumed by the male gaze. Is that not harassment too? And what of the streets, buses, hostels, dhabas, classrooms or even protest sites in JNU? What of the passing comments, the ‘harmless’ jokes, the unwelcome handshakes, the regular drunken misbehaviours in places like 24*7 dhaba, or the disgusting stares, that others do not seem to even see? Even in a progressive university like JNU this is the harsh reality which women students are forced to bear every day.Whatever little democratic space that women students enjoy on this campus is the result of movements – assertive movements of women, the student community and also a section of the faculty. JNU still remains among the very few places where women can remain outdoors late at night without the fear of molestation and harassment. This is not because of the ‘security’ provided by the administration but because of JNU’s vigilant students’ movement and particularly its progressive womens’ movement. GSCASH is a product of that movement, not the source of it. Of late however, there is an attempt to replace this very movement with only the institution of GSCASH. This not only undermines ground-level struggles for women’s rights, it also weakens GSCASH. It is because collective movement of progressive students is the only way of truly strengthening GSCASH. Otherwise, it just remains one of the many toothless committees in JNU, an advocacy body that is dependent on the whims and fancies of a pro status quo, anti-student administration.
Only a collective and conscious movement of students around GSCASH can effectively strengthen it. A movement that collectively ensures that woman students feel confident enough to report cases of sexual harassment and are not forced to retreat owing to mounting social pressures. A conscious movement that rejects and resists the culture of slander, flaunting of male machismo, asking for sexual favours or harassing women in any form. Where women are not forced to constantly adjust their behaviour according to the male choices or diktats. Bodies and minds are not forced and tortured to adhere to beauty, chastity, housewife roles and rules – the prevalent feudal and consumerist morality. We must recognize that atrocious incidents like the MMS scandal has happened in our self-proclaimed progressive campus along with numerous other incidents of violence and harassment. The right-wing forces whose politics flow solely from fascism and feudalism play a major role in maintaining the oppressive assaults of patriarchy and its crude manifestations in the campus too. The blatant shielding of sexual harassers by various so-called ‘left’ organizations like SFI and AISA only strengthen the same reactionary, regressive anti-woman status-quo.

Every issue is a women’s issue and no issue is a women’s issue alone. The fight for fair wages for the woman worker blends into the struggle against imperialism. The struggle for the dignity of dalit women is an integral part of the struggles to annihilate caste and smash feudalism. The rape and murder of Manorama Devi in Manipur, the mass rape in Kunan Poshpora in Kashmir by the Indian army, the attack on countless adivasi women in central and eastern India by the state forces or the notorious Salwa Judum demonstrates the particular vulnerability of women to all forms of attacks, discrimination and deprivation. The fight for women’s rights can only be fought with the collective strength of struggles waged against all forms of oppression, and not in isolation. This has been the lesson of the students’ movement of our campus, as well as the revolutionary women’s movement of this country exemplified by mass organisations like Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan of Bastar, Nari Mukti Sangh of Bihar-Jharkhand or nari Ijjat Bachao Samiti of Jangal Mahal. To strengthen and expand the scope of GSCASH and to revive the women’s movement in this campus, we must build bridges between movements that are being fought for the democratization of education and of the campus at large.
DSU believes that the elected students’ representatives in GSCASH has a crucial role to play in meeting the challenges faced by GSCASH, for which it is necessary that we do not feign political ‘neutrality’ of the student’s representatives, but rather choose our representatives to GSCASH on the basis of their politics.

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