Kashmir University’s GSCASH is a joke

Most women don’t know who to complain to when they face catcalls, indecent remarks, sexual advances or are stalked.

WrittenBy:Arshie Qureshi
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Sexual harassment has been a part of academic experiences for long. Yet, while eulogising the academic achievements of an institution, this dark aspect is never spoken about.


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One of the highlights of 2017 was undoubtedly Raya Sarkar’s list of alleged sexual predators in academia, which opened a Pandora’s Box of harassment in educational institutions. A stream of such incidents was exposed at educational institutes.

In places where that didn’t happen, the list at least compelled many to rethink one’s safety and acceptable behaviour at colleges and universities, inspiring conversations around the issue. But the universities in the Kashmir valley are yet to see discussions on the same.

Barely six months into her PhD studies at Kashmir University, Saima* started noticing that her professor’s friendly concern was more than just that. It was a demand for a sexual favour. She avoided it until her thesis submission date arrived. Finally, she negotiated a lunch date.

Once her degree was awarded, she never returned to the campus while he worked there. Last year, when harassment on campuses was in the news, Saima was surprised that none of the names on the viral list was from any university in Kashmir. Saima posted #MeToo on her Facebook profile. It went unnoticed.

By now, Saima assumed that the problem would have been wiped out with newer regulations such as the Internal Complaints Committee and GSCASH in the backdrop of the Vishaka guidelines – except that the regulations alone did not help. The ways of demanding favours had, in fact, changed for the worst.

Azra, a scholar in the law department, alleged that now there is a hierarchy, at the bottom of which are students. “A senior student can lure juniors with notes and demand favours. The faculty does the same with scholars and students in return for important questions for exams. It’s a vicious circle,” she said.

The redressal mechanism

No sooner did Azra come to know about a professor in her department sending inappropriate texts to female students, she raised a complaint before the department. They did take action, but only when she threatened to highlight the issue before the media.

The harassment is not just of the students by the staff. The problem runs deeper. After earning a Bachelor’s degree, Marieya Mushtaq joined the ‘women and law’ course hoping to learn more about legal redressal of gender-related issues. Unfortunately, her tenure at the campus brought in focus more instances of gender insensitivity, as opposed to what she had expected.

Marieya was taken aback by how instances of harassment are taken as routine on campus and have largely gained acceptance among all. The men, she recalls, would pass by in cars and pass comments, while the women would quietly pretend to ignore it.

“The best response I was told was silence,” she said. The day she chose to break her silence was when she had to face the music. She stood up to a group of men passing comments on her. Instead of feeling ashamed at their behaviour, the emboldened group complained against her to the proctor, stating that she had been creating a fuss.

Marieya was called to the office and first addressed to by a male proctor and some other men. “I was told the campus was the safest, unlike JNU, from where they presumed I had come,” she said. The case was closed and there was no looking further into the underlying cause of the problem.

It is an opinion held by most women on campus that regulations and mechanisms won’t help unless people in positions of power change their mindset.

Most women spoken to about complaint redressal were unaware of who to complain to when they faced catcalls, indecent remarks, stalking or unsolicited sexual advances.

Slut-shaming on campus 

Before Marieya’s complaint was dismissed, she was told that the committee had assessed her character by her manner of sitting.

Given the overall understanding of gender in the university, the committee’s remarks about Marieya were not unexpected, Bazilla, a student from the same university, pointed out.

“Slut-shaming is rampant on campus. More than academics, my professors are worried about my marriage. They keep asking me that given my ‘behaviour’, how would any guy accept me,” Bazilla added.

Besides the unsatisfactory response to complaints, segregation is another form of visible aggression that students deal with. If not entirely prohibited, inter-gender interactions are discouraged within and outside classrooms. The university, for many students, becomes the first place where they interact with other women and men, and hence a microcosm of the social world.

Bazilla had to hear all sorts of slurs from her professors for being friends with men. In one of her classes, she was told that her conduct was suitable for a bedroom and not a classroom, all because of her male companionship, she alleged. “Why at all is the university a co-ed institution?” she asked.

“Does all this add up to harassment?” asked Mehwish, a psychology student. She was once followed by a group of male students to the canteen, who kept passing comments about her skinny jeans. Her question itself indicates a lack of understanding about what constitutes harassment.

She and many other women find themselves amid the blurred boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not. Mehwish considers herself guilty for dressing up in skinny jeans. “Such behaviour seemed routine, although when I thought of complaining on another occasion, I was told I needed to go to the proctor,” she said.

In 2006, the university established a Women’s Study Centre with the aim “to educate the community about gender issues and to provide a safe psychological and physical space for all women and men interested in gender issues”.

The university did not have any gender sensitisation committee till the Women’s Study Centre in 2016 pushed for the establishment of the Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH).

While its establishment might be seen as a positive change, it is rather invisible on the ground. Its constitution or the procedure to file complaints is still not mentioned anywhere on the official website, compared with what the director of the Women’s Study Centre, professor Nilofar Khan, had claimed.

The students and staff on the campus too remain oblivious to sexist overtones everywhere. Going by the website, the focus of their work seems more on macro-level issues, ignoring the basics. Their work remains confined to conducting workshops every now and then. There is yet to be a conversation on how harassment results in emotional and academic stress among students.

Professor Khan was contacted several times to discuss the problem but did not respond.

*Name has been changed.

Originally published by Feminism in India , this piece is part of our series #MakeMyCampusSafe in collaboration with Feminism In India.

Help us find out if there’s a sexual harassment complaint committee in your college. Who constitutes it? How does it function? How can students be a part of it? And share it with us on social media with #MakeMyCampusSafe.

You can also write to us at campus@newslaundry.com, the stories and reports on how your college deals with sexual harassment.


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