Are DUSU elections a breeding ground for sexual harassment?

Whether it’s a friendly yet ill-intended handshake or being unceremoniously touched among large crowds, women across campuses say that rampant sexual harassment is most prevalent during election time.

WrittenBy:Mitsu Sahay
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You may probably never witness such a thick crowd in your college throughout the academic year, as much as in the month of August. One looks around to find everything chaotic, unreasonably loud and packed with people in white shirts. In this rush—of pleasing voters and the system alike—the election environment proves to be a high-risk zone for those who are vulnerable, especially women.


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Sexual harassment is rampant across all Indian campuses. The magnitude of this issue, despite being extensive, still hasn’t found space in public conversations, in classrooms, or even anywhere outside these brackets. But one stage where harassment takes a persistent and regular form is during the election season when a striking show of predatory behaviour and criminal impunity is brazenly put on display.

Ananya, a third-year student, describes the campus environment during election season. “You find these hyper-masculine, dangerous looking men sitting in groups and staring at women passing by,” she said. “The physical space which they occupy becomes so unsafe that you don’t even bother responding to their misbehaviour. Feeling this way in your own college, which is supposed to be an equally safe space for everyone, is very unfortunate.”

The accepted way around garnering attention—and votes—further enables sexual harassment to take place. During large-scale marches with hundreds of party workers shouting slogans and their candidate’s names, one is hardly able to notice the undue advantage taken of such crowded places to inappropriately touch or speak to women.

Furthermore, one also experiences a gross invasion of personal space when approached by people distributing cards, pamphlets, etc. Dhathri, a second-year student, explains: “Look at the people who randomly come to shake your hand without bothering to ask you whether you want to do the same or not. This is just the beginning of their nasty politics.”

Talking about unsolicited and creepy messages on social media, she says, “They think it is a part of their job to socialise with students, but in this process, the whole idea of consent gets eliminated from their politics.”

The mechanism provided by the University Grants Commission to deal with sexual harassment cases is the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) set up in every college. This committee holds enquiries of sexual harassment and decides on their appropriate punishment. Dr Vinita Chandra, ICC chairperson of Ramjas College, talks about the complaints she receives. “So far this year, I have received one formal complaint of sexual harassment relating to elections. But I get a lot of informal complaints as well. During this time, because there is so much liberty to behave in any manner that you want, from crowding the corridors and gates, to shouting names and slogans at full volume, it creates an atmosphere of sexual intimidation. And because of the increasing intensity of this atmosphere of fear, lesser and lesser people are willing to speak up against it. With the violence and attacks that have been unleashed on students in recent years, it actually becomes easier for the perpetrators to blatantly touch or jostle people.” 

With the large-scale stationing of sophistically equipped police and para-military forces, the college campus appears to be nothing less than a conflicted area; the air is filled with vigilantism, domination through coercion, and an urge to exercise authority. A sense of supremacy over law and order can be seen through spaces, candidates, and their political organisations. This narcissistic tactic employed to establish power contributes to the diminishing consideration of the other person’s space, security, and comfort. Two female party supporters, who requested to not be named, talked about their experience of being a part of this setup.

“I have witnessed sexual harassment take place during election events,” one of them said. “As soon as it gets crowded and people start getting pushed around, they start touching you everywhere. The language they use makes us feel disgusted. Right now, a person approached us and said: ‘Kya laundiya khadi kar rakhi hain’ (What women have they made stand here). We are also students—so what is wrong with us supporting any party just because we are women? The opposition, especially, really tries to make us feel uncomfortable as a part of their own political agenda.”

The events which occur during elections are conceptually aimed towards solving problems faced by students. Female students are harassed during protest marches taken out for the cause of gender equality. So practically, quite antithetical to its purpose, it ends up adding to the problems and issues for students to deal with.

Niwash Prakash, a third-year student who has formerly held a union position and is currently an active supporter and campaigner of a particular party, said: “If we talk about DUSU, they come with the aim of grabbing attention. They arrive at a college with their masses, and that crowd then becomes faceless. Many people in that crowd might also be totally new to the college space. These elections are entirely unregulated in terms of crowd management, code of conduct, etc. This makes sexual harassment pass as something that is inevitable. Many people prey on female freshers by giving fake assurances, and take undue advantage of them later.”

Talking about resolving this issue, he said: “In my two years of taking part in elections, I have realised that the basic beginning is full awareness amongst all students so that they can resist and report such acts. Additionally, the Lyngdoh Committee, which has been established to manage the disturbances caused by elections, should also step in and take strict action.”

The idea of university elections is essentially a remarkable opportunity to learn about democratic practices and legacies. To give the students a voice and an agency to decide for themselves is what is at the core of student politics. But the aggressive and intimidating culture that has taken the shape of sexual harassment across Delhi Universities acts against the interest of students, and nearly all the women in these universities have to bear the brunt of it.

You can also check out our series on the status of sexual harassment redressal mechanism, here.


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