"Boys generally cross (sometimes advertently, sometimes inadvertently) the thin line between friendship's bantering and sexual harassment. Girls suppose to know how to draw a tangible line (between them and their male friends) to avoid any such harassments (sic)."
This is a part of a recently uploaded circular by the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Not surprisingly, the notice has invited the ire of not just student outfits but also the National Commission for Women chairperson Rekha Sharma, who has sought a withdrawal of the "misogynist" circular.
Here’s all we know about this latest issue and we also take a look at past instances of universities and colleges being sexist.
JNU circular that sparked a row
JNU's ICC recently uploaded a circular on the university's website saying that it would organise a counselling session on sexual harassment on 17 January and that such sessions would be done on a monthly basis.
Under the subhead “why is the counselling session required”, the circular said that it will make students aware about what consists of sexual harassment, the news agency PTI has reported.
Then, it goes on to say that women are supposed to know how to draw a line between themselves and male friends to “avoid harassments.”
“ICC come across a number of cases where sexual harassment takes place among close friends. Boys generally cross (sometimes advertently, sometimes inadvertently) the thin line between friendship’s bantering and sexual harassment. Girls suppose to know how to draw a tangible line (between them and their male friends) to avoid any such harassments (sic),” the circular read.
It also stated that the ICC has a zero-tolerance policy towards any kind of sexual harassment.
Outrage over circular
On the girls are “suppose to know how to draw a tangible line between them and their male friends” statement in the circular, Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union president Aishe Ghosh said it was a victim shaming remark.
“The ICC in JNU makes a blatant victim blaming remark where it asks ‘women to draw a tangible line to not get harassed by their male members. The ICC time and again in JNU has passed such regressive remarks or conducted itself in a way to moral police the survivor,” she said in a statement.
“Such a remark, creates a space where harassment in such lines will become rampant and will lead to become an unsafe space for women,” Ghosh said.
The Left-affiliated All India Students' Association (AISA) also chimed in, calling the counselling session a sham.
"The ICC of JNU has come up with a notice regarding counselling session for JNU students regarding sexual harrasment. In one of the reasons for requiring such a session, ICC writes: 'girls suppose to know how to draw a tangible line (between them and their male friends) to avoid any such harassments'. This exposes the attitude of victim blaming which the ICC has been practising," the student outfit said.
"This counselling session is a sham and will only lead to making JNU an unsafe space for women," it said.
NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma too has slammed the "misogynist" circular and called for its withdrawal.
Tagging the circular on Twitter, Sharma said, "Why all the teachings are always for girls alone? Time to teach harassers not the victims. The misogynist circular of #JNU should be withdrawn. Internal committee should have victim-centred approach and not otherwise."
Past instances of sexism in universities
This is not the first time that educational institutions in the country have come under fire for encouraging misogyny or sexism.
There are many colleges and universities across India, which have implemented sexist rules only for women. In 2017, Himadri hostel at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi had put up a notice asking women to wear “full covered decent western or Indian dresses” on their house day.
Calling it an act of moral policing, a member of Pinjra Tod said, “Why do our administrators feel this desperate need to police women wear.”
The Government Medical College in Kerala’s capital, Trivandrum, issued a dress code for its female students instructing them not to wear jeans, leggings, short tops or noisy ornaments.
And it's not just female students, who are victims of sexism. The situation is equally bad for professors in some colleges. RMD College in Chennai restrained a professor clad in jeans from entering the college campus.
If limiting women's fashion choices wasn't sexist enough, some colleges have a problem with women venturing out on their own.
In 2015, Jamia Milia Islamia barred girls from going for “late nights” and asked them to be back by 8 pm. In Aligarh Muslim University as well, similar rules related to women’s movement had angered the students who staged a big protest demanding freedom from authorities.
Such rules led to the formation of Pinjra Tod, a collective of young college-going women, formed to protest against such regressive rules. It was actually Pinjra Tod that brought the IIT Delhi incident to everybody’s notice by posting it on their social media.
The group is actively fighting against colleges and women’s rights in academic institutions. They organise marches, all-night meetings and events to spread awareness and bring gendered exploitations to the fore.
With inputs from agencies