CHENNAI: Students of IIT Madras on Monday observed a symbolic silent and peaceful ‘Hug Day’, protesting what they termed as increasing moral policing and sexual harassment on the campus. More than 50 students gathered outside the office of the Dean of Students around 11 am and hugged each other, after staging a sit-in demonstration.This comes within a week of a female student being shamed by a non-teaching staff member, who filmed her hugging a male friend, and gave a moral lecture calling her act “indecent and immoral”.
The students spoke up against how they were being repeatedly subjected to moral policing over their choice of dress and talking to the opposite sex during odd hours. They also highlighted the inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment by the institute’s security personnel themselves and the pathetic response from the administration. Several female students who spoke to Express said on condition of anonymity that the incidents of moral policing and sexual harassment were, of late, recurring and the issue had been raised with the Dean of Students and the Chief Security Officer on several occasions, but unfortunately no action had been taken on that count.
Referring to a recent internal survey carried out by ‘The Fifth Estate’, which is the student media body of IIT Madras, a girl student told Express that one-fourth of all female respondents had faced inappropriate behaviour from security guards. The ‘Fifth Estate’ report was based on the survey titled ‘Gender-based Harassment: A Reality on Campus?’, which has some chilling unedited personal accounts of student who faced moral policing and harassment at the hands of security guards.
A student was quoted as saying, “A guard came across me and a fellow male student in CRC (classroom complex) one night and proceeded to give me a one-hour moral lecture about how my future marriage will be completely destroyed because of my ‘impurity’ and misbehaviour. Then he proceeded to talk completely inappropriately about sexual urges and how he “also” fell a prey to them (even though we were not doing anything inappropriate, we were sitting and talking, though it was dark). He resisted all our attempts to move away and to tell him off, by getting aggressive. He then told us to use his room for sex.”
“They stare. One of them slapped the guy I was with,” another student said.
What was most striking was that “fellow students” were the most common aggressor. Out of total 815 respondents, 67 per cent of victims said their perpetrators were fellow students. This flies in the face of the widespread assumption that sexual crimes on campus are committed by outsiders. It is noteworthy that the faculty are named as perpetrators by 25 individuals.
Moment of truth
A report in ‘The Fifth Estate’, the IIT-M campus paper, highlights rise in instances of sexual harassment as well.
The proportion of female students (45%) who said they were sexually harassed is over 10 times that of male students (4%) who faced the same issue. In all, 109/815 respondents reported this issue
54.5% of all victims said that ignoring or clearly indicating their discomfort had no effect on sexual harassment; 59% of female victims reported that harassment continued
80.5% of those who reported being sexually assaulted on campus are females (out of a total of 36/815). 1/7 of the people who identified differently faced sexual assault, as did 1% of all male respondents
Fellow students form the majority of the perpetrators of sexual harassment; 67% of female victims and 67% of male victims said that their perpetrators were fellow students
One-fourth of female respondents faced inappropriate behaviour from security guards
What students want
Creating a conducive environment for interaction between the opposite sexes, such as common working areas, common messes and co-ed hostels
Awareness programmes, open discussions and debates leading to gender sensitisation.
Awareness should be created among faculty and security guards so that they do not sit in judgement over interaction between sexes, attires etc
Awareness of what is considered proper behaviour towards both sexes; implement measures so that unacceptable actions have clear consequences