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Girls Should Know How To Draw The Line, JNU Circular Row

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A Circular by the Internal Complaints Committee Counselling Session has students at the Jawahar Nehru University (JNU) divided. The Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) has posted on their website a google form for the students to participate in monthly counselling sessions on “Dos and Dont’s” of sexual harassment. The first session of the counselling is scheduled to be held on January 17, 2022.

The idea behind the session is “to make the students (both girls and boys) aware about what consists of sexual harassment.” According to ICC, such sensitisation sessions are held during the orientation programme but they feel that students need to be reminded about it periodically.

However, a student of the Centre of Political Studies (who wishes to remain anonymous) told SheThePeople that in the year 2019, when she joined the college as a masters student, no such counselling or session on sexual harassment was organised.

Suggested Reading: Why We Need Gender Sensitization On University Campuses

The announcement also stated that sessions are required as “girls (are) supposed to know how to draw a tangible line (between them and their male friends) to avoid any such harassments.”

But to Aishe Ghosh, the President of JNU Students’ Union, this sounds a tad bit like “victim-blaming.” While speaking with SheThePeople, the 27-year-old Ghosh said, “Women have been asked to draw a tangible line for the gender sensitisation counselling this is putting the onus on the woman or the survivor and not the accused or the harasser. This has been a continuous practice of ICC and a complaint that we have been receiving from the survivors.”

A member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) from JNU (who wishes to remain anonymous) told SheThePeople, “The statement that girls are supposed to know how to draw the line is pathetic. It should be condemned. Asking girl’s to draw the line is absolutely terrible as a JNUite, as a citizen and a girl student, I feel this should be opposed by all student organisations.” ABVP has not issued any official statement on the matter.

Several people on Twitter have also called out the circular as an incident of victim-blaming.

In an interview with The Indian Express, the Presiding Officer of ICC Punam Kumari said, “We get several complaints where sexual harassment cases take place between men and women who are close friends. They touch each other, hug each other. But the moment women feel that they don’t feel comfortable about this, they should state this clearly to their male friends. Till the time thy don’t speak, and if they keep it to themselves, then it doesn’t work. If he continues to do it despite being told, then the ICC is there.”

According to ICC, these sessions will enlighten the students with the meaning of sexual harassment and the repercussions if a person is found guilty in such a case. They believe that this will help in reducing the sexual harassment cases and do away with confusion related to sexual harassment.

The ICC has uploaded a google form for students to sign up and if 20 students sign up then they will receive counselling on the issue at hand. However, Ghosh finds this problematic. She said, “If it is not a compulsory session, it is not gender sensitisation. In the coming session, if only 20 out of 8,000 students are attending, how is it sensitisation? A voluntary basis will not sensitise the community in its entirety. Sensitisation should happen for staff and teachers as well.”

Ghosh points out that before 2018-19 Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment was the body that dealt with sexual harassment and other cases. After this ICC came to place and they did not have any representation from teachers and students. In many cases, she alleges that ICC resorted to “victim-blaming.”

“In a recent case of a male student sending pornographic videos to a student. The survivor was traumatised and mailed to ICC. Finally, the verdict from ICC stated that both boy and the survivor needs to do mental health counselling and gender sensitisation counselling. Rather than putting the onus on the man, they also put the woman in a position. After this, the survivor had to approach the police. In another case, the survivor was asked by the panel why the survivor wore certain clothes, why were you there at a certain point at night at the guy’s room, why were you drinking. The witness in the case was called and shamed for wearing shorts,” said Ghosh.

Rekha Sharma, the chairperson of the National Commission of Women (NCW) has also sought for withdrawal of a circular issued by the JNU calling it “misogynist.”

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