CAMPAIGN FOR A SAFE UNIVERSITY
CAMPAIGN FOR A SAFE UNIVERSITY
Newsletter Sep – Dec 2002
The gang rape of a student of Delhi University in July this year sent shock waves through the campus and highlighted the high prevalence of violence faced by women students. A campaign for violence against women emerged, and a broad forum, Coalition for Safe University (CSU) was formed, comprising the Forum Against Sexual Harassment, Progressive Students Union, Democratic Students Union, All India Students Association,-Saheli and Stree Adhikar Sangathan. For the ﬁrst time, Women's Development Centres (WDCs) of K.M. College, Satyawati College (E) and Miranda House also joined the campaign, which has been highlighting issues raised by FASH and other students groups over the last several years.
Delhi University has had a long history of protests against sexism and violence against women: the issue of ‘chick charts’, Holi hooliganism, harassment in the garb of ragging and sexual harassment of research scholars by professors. Yet, the protests have tended to be confined to particular cases and have failed to develop into a sustained campaign. While this year's campaign also emerged from a specific case, it tried to widen its scope. In addition to demanding punishment for the perpetrators, the demands included the implementation of a Policy against Sexual Harassment, restriction of public traffic inside the campus, adequate lighting on campus roads and faculties, and more women's hostels. The CSU submitted memoranda to the Vice-Chancellor, Dean of Colleges, Proctor and Deputy Proctor and also approached the Municipal Corporation and police officials for interventions at various levels. To draw attention to the dismal situation of street lighting on the campus which houses about fifteen graduate and postgraduate hostels and families of academic and administrative staff, members of the Coalition noted down specific areas where no streetlights were functional. Another problem highlighted was that large numbers of women from outside the city who come to study in Delhi University have to live in private hostels due to the absence of adequate hostel facilities. These students are extremely vulnerable and have nowhere to complain about harassment.
While the Proctor‘s office did convene a few meetings with the WDC co-ordinators, members of the Coalition, University and police officials, and barricades to slow down the traffic outside the Women's hostels on Chhatra Marg were provided, sustained mechanisms to ensure safety for women in Delhi University still remain wanting. After pressure by the Coalition, an Interim Apex Committee was set up in September 2002. Yet, no meeting of the Apex Committee has taken place till date. The Committees in the colleges and departments have been constituted in an ad hoc manner, most of them having no presence of a women's group. A delegation of CSU met the VC Prof Deepak Nayyar on 29th November and submitted a memorandum reiterating the demands of adequate lighting and more women's hostels, and requested a time-frame within which the Policy would be adopted. Disappointingly, the VC did not give any assurances about considering even a single demand.
But it is clear that the adoption of the Policy and creation of complaints mechanisms by themselves will not be sufficient to deal with the problem. It is crucial to reach out to people and stress that it is vital to break the silence, recognise the problem and extend help to the affected women. A neighbourhood campaign was started in the areas around the University and plays on the theme of sexual harassment were performed, leaflets distributed and discussions held, with the central message that it is the responsibility of every resident to ensure that violence against women would not be tolerated in their locality.
The experience of the coalition has been a mix of some positive and many negative experiences. The response of the city administration and the University administration has shown that despite repeated incidences of sexual harassment and rape of women on the campus and in the city in general, women's safety remains a low priority issue. While many women students joined the Coalition and took on leadership of the different activities, we hope that in the future more students will join the coalition, especially from colleges spread across the city so that issues of safety of women in non—north campus colleges can also be addressed.