In Jadavpur University (a State aided university of West Bengal), the Arts Students Faculty Union organizes a students’ cultural festival, Sanskriti. On the second night of the festival, an incident of violence occurred in the campus that resulted in a chain of events.
On the night of 28th August, during the ongoing festival, a second year student from the Department of History, Jadavpur University, was allegedly molested inside campus premises by a group of people from the hostel, and her male friend (not a JU student), was beaten up. According to the victim, she had gone near the hostel to relieve herself given the unavailability of bathrooms at the time, accompanied by her friend. On their way back, a group of hostel boys allegedly passed snide remarks which led to a scuffle, and then escalated to something bigger. While her friend was allegedly pulled away and beaten up, she was dragged into the hostel, where she claims she was molested.
She tried to get in touch with the University authorities immediately the following day(29th August). On meeting the VC, he maintained that he would need 15 days to act on the issue, and asked her to stay away from college for those days due to ‘security issues’. When told that it was his responsibility to provide security to the students, he claimed students would protest if he tried to enforce strict surveillance in the campus. The victim was not even informed of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Cell, an autonomous body that does not work under the VC’s supervision. Faced with such apathy, she was forced to lodge an FIR at the Jadavpur Police Station on 1st September.
The general students, regardless of their political affiliations, organized a General Body meeting on 3rd September where a deputation to the Dean of Students was finalized. This deputation demanded the setting up of an independent investigative committee constituting external members such as a retired judge, a psychologist, a gender rights activist, a Women’s Commission member, a Human Rights Commission member, amongst others. It also demanded that the investigation procedure should be processed within 7 days, and that each and every student should be kept abreast of its proceedings.
In the FIR that was lodged, the victim had already identified one of the accused. In any case under the IPC, the police can make prima facie arrests based on the identification made by the victim. The identified accused can be brought in for their statements to be recorded. Since the police remained inactive despite the VC’s supposed approval, the general students organized a protest rally to Jadavpur Police Station on 5th September. Representatives of the students’ body were informed by the police that they would require ‘some more time’.
The same day saw two representatives of the University authorities paying the victim an unauthorized visit. They refused to present identification and questioned the victim’s clothing and sobriety on the night of 28th August – a clear violation of the Vishakha Guidelines that assert that there should be no external pressure either on the victim or the accused during the investigating procedure. The victim, quite traumatized with the entire incident, lodged a general diary on the same day at the Bidhan Nagar Police Station. On 8th September, members of the AIPWA (All India Progressive Women’s Association) accompanied by members of the general students’ body went to submit a deputation to the VC in whose absence the pro-VC received it. The pro-VC’s only response to every question asked on the matter was, ‘I don’t know.”
The same day (8th September) saw a protest rally organized by the general students to the VC’s office demanding an explanation for the victim-blaming, but the ICC (Internal Complaint Cell) members refused to make any public statement. The students’ representative of the ICC, also the General Secrertary of AFSU, (Arts Faculty Students’ Union) resigned from her post as member in protest against the biased nature of the investigation. It was decided through general consensus that the ICC members should not be allowed to leave before making any constructive statement. In the process of preventing them from leaving, students (both male and female) faced violent resistance from the unidentified men who were accompanying the members for their protection. Afterwards, when a few representatives from the students’ body were finally allowed an audience with 3 members of the ICC, the latter altogether denied a part in any kind of victim-blaming, and urged the students not to sensationalize the incident in the media.
Incidentally, on 9th September, the Bengali daily, ‘Ei Shomoy’ published a report where a member of the ICC had claimed that she was physically assaulted by students. “I was shoved, kicked and strangled” was her statement to the newspaper, even though female students had only built up a human barricade to stop her from leaving. A General Body meeting was organized on the same day where an open letter was written addressed to the said member questioning the authenticity of her accusation and demanding proof in the form of CCTV footage since students were under CCTV surveillance the entire time during the sit-in.
On 10th September another GB meeting was called where the students decided to go on an indefinite sit-in in front of Aurobindo Bhavan (the main office on campus) till a public statement is issued. The VC still refused to utter a word and kept expressing absolute nonchalance. In the evening on the same day, after another GB meeting, it was decided that students would rally to the Chancellor’s office demanding an immediate investigation into the matter, and would ask the VC to call an Emergency EC meeting on 12th September to set up the investigative committee since the ICC has clearly proved itself to be inefficient and criminal by violating the Vishakha Guidelines. The same evening, in an interaction with the student representatives, claimed that if he felt the necessity he would ask for police intervention and stated that the students week-old deputation would only be presented at the EC meeting scheduled for 16th September. Since this meant that the issue would be reserved as a zero hour topic, the students drafted a deputation for an emergency EC meeting to be held within 24 hours. The sit-in continued throughout the night despite disturbances in the form of attempts in intimidation by the police.
Various attempts have been made to divert attention from the main agenda, but students need to, and will, stay focused on the core issue. Students need to ensure that an impartial investigation is conducted and justice is meted out. Thus, the students need the support of people outside the campus, and the cooperation of the media. To work collectively is the need of the hour.
STUDENTS OF JADAVPUR UNIVERSITY
The pictures of protest rally and sit-in demonstration are taken by students who are participating in the ongoing movement.