Gargi College in Delhi was rocked by mass sexual assault by a mob of drunken men last week, once again exposing the poor security infrastructure for the students in the national capital. The men went around the campus molesting and groping female students.
“Reverie 2020 was a traumatic experience for most of us. There were drunk, middle-aged men harassing us, molesting us and masturbating at us,” a student wrote in a social media post that went viral.
Coming on the heels of the police action on students of Jamia Millia Islamia in December 2019 and Jawaharlal Nehru University the following month, the mass sexual attack at Gargi College is telling about the deteriorating state of security across college campuses in India.
The police officers waited outside as a mob of masked men entered the JNU campus on 5 January and beat up students and teachers. On Monday, Delhi Police launched yet another brutal crackdown on students of Jamia Millia Islamia, with students saying they were hit “in private parts”.
The deteriorating state of security on college campuses across the country and the police’s response are increasingly making a statement: India is no country for students.
Security beyond lapse
“There was only 1 person standing at the gate at around 4:30 pm. He told the people who were entering to hold their ID cards up in the air. In 1 second, at least 7-8 people were entering,” a student wrote in an Instagram post.
A common thread emerging from these accounts points towards the lapse in security on the campus. Students say it was the “paucity of bouncers and police inside and outside the college” that allowed a rowdy crowd to enter the campus. About 8000-10,000 individuals managed to gain entry, they said.
— Shrawasti Lavanya (@ShrawastiL) February 9, 2020
Similar concerns over campus security were raised when the JNU was attacked on 5 January but they seem to have gone unheeded, revealing a deeper malaise in India’s educational system that refuses to prioritise the safety of students.
What is ironic, however, are the countless instances of college administration locking up women, prohibiting their right to enter the university campus beyond certain hours under the pretext of keeping them safe. Pinjra Tod (break the cage), an autonomous women’s collective started by the alumni of various Delhi colleges, has been attempting to change these regressive practices. According to them, the curtailment of women’s right to mobility and sartorial choices in the name of ‘safety’ is an eyewash with patriarchal motives.
A safe space for women
It’s been a little over two years since I graduated from Ashoka University. Looking back, I am filled with nostalgia for the physical space that made me feel safe despite the clothes I was wearing or the ideologies I espoused. Any woman in India will tell you how difficult it is to come across public spaces where your entry and existence aren’t questioned.
Even though they are a long way from becoming ideal places for women in this “big, bad world”, college campuses are perhaps the only spaces in this patriarchal country where women have the right to learn, voice opinions and conduct themselves without the fear of judgement.
So, when students of Gargi College lament that they no longer feel safe on the campus, it is this sense of freedom that they lose. A student took to Twitter Monday to criticise a comment supposedly made by college principal Promila Kumar in response to the safety concerns raised by students in the wake of the mass sexual attack. “Our principal saying things like “itna unsafe feel hota hai toh mat aaya karo” is exactly how you normalise sexual harrasment and toxic masculinity. This is not how you “empower” a college with all women,” the student wrote.
The inaction over the assault at Gargi College is likely to set a dangerous precedent for female students in a country where access to educational opportunities is already skewed. It is now up to the HRD Ministry to ensure all places of learning in India are safe for women.