“It didn’t matter whether it hurt, if I said no, whether I was on my period or really not in the mood or physical state,” says a second-year student of English from Jadavpur University (JU), with regard to her alleged assailant R., a second-year student of Comparative Literature.
The survivor claims that more than justice, she wants people to know the kind of person they share the university space with.
The first week of May saw a flurry of social media posts by female students at JU, detailing horrifying incidents of abuse, rape, torture and trauma.
Ironically, JU has always been highly regarded as a progressive, safe and gender-sensitive academic space. But these posts state the opposite. The prevalence of harassment is so deeply ingrained that such tendencies are almost normalised, even within the paradigm of a supposedly progressive space.
Sanika, a graduate in English literature, says she has always felt the campus to be a sexist space. “It is safe only for the men who want to make it a downright dangerous place for the young people.” “Such is the reality of Jadavpur in my head and all I feel when I think about it is hopelessness.”
According to students, S. – a third-year student of English and a student activist with the Students’ Federation of India is another alleged perpetrator. The survivors have alleged that he repeatedly ignored their requests of holding off and saying no.
Similarly, R. also has a number of allegations against him. Students have allegedly accused him of forcing women to sleep with him against their consent simply because he didn’t want to waste the condoms he’d bought. Furthermore, the survivors say that he would click incriminating pictures of them and upload them on social media under the guise of art.
The freshers, too, have shared similar stories. The two of them, students allege, would go after freshers as they are just out of school and don’t know much about the college’s complaint redressal mechanism.
Indradatta Basu, a first-year student from the department of English said that S. always objectified women. “Being friends made him think it automatically gave him the license to be physically intimate – he always took my comfort for granted,” she said.
One of the victim’s of both S. and R. anonymously alleged that her batchmates were complicit in perpetrating the harassment. According to her, S. had groped her on one occasion when she was heavily intoxicated and R. had hurt her physically.
The survivor, who was suffering from clinical anxiety, had to resort to excessive alcohol consumption because every attempt to stop physical engagement was unheeded. This led to consecutive anxiety attacks and, consequently, complying with R’s demands to avoid further problems.
According to Livemint, about 99% of sexual violence cases go unreported. In educational institutes, especially universities, survivors of sexual assault are usually forced to suffer in silence because college authorities take forever to initiate investigation against the alleged perpetrators.
In 2016, over 13 women accused Ekalavya Chaudhuri – son of a senior professor at JU – of sexually harassing them, India Today reported.
According to students, an internal complaint committee was formed after the incident to examine the allegations but didn’t find him guilty. Chaudhuri, despite numerous allegations, is allegedly pursuing his masters at another reputed Kolkata institution. By the time the committee reached a conclusion, he had already graduated, thereby rendering him immune from any punitive action.
After the #MeToo movement in India, cases of sexual violence are at least recognised. But what about those survivors of sexual assault who get abused by their intimate partner?
Cases of abuse by intimate partners
Shrabana Chatterjee, a second-year masters student of Comparative Literature alleges that she had been abused by her longtime partner, A. She revealed how trying to speak out about her trauma around a year back resulted in her being ridiculed and allegedly told to not wash her ‘dirty laundry’ in public.
“Then I saw a storm of these posts coming in and realised I had to write it down this time to have it heard,” she said.
According to Chatterjee, A., a graduate from the Bengali department, would physically abuse her every time she suggested breaking off their relationship.
Fear of being physically and sexually abused prevented her from being able to extricate herself from the relationship. She said she could walk out only when A. found someone else and tossed her aside on a whim.
“I cringe to death every time I enter campus because it all keeps coming back to me; he is still allowed inside, he’s still abusing multiple people in the very campus where he has abused so many,” she says.
Many students have admitted that they are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorder after the incidents of abuse.
Atrayee Mukherjee, a first-year masters student in Linguistics, said that her ex-boyfriend, D., used to molest her, threaten her and get physical with other women.
“It has been etched into my consciousness forever. I cannot be with another person no matter how nice they are,” she concludes, further adding that she will be lodging an FIR against him soon.
N., a first-year masters student in comparative literature, is another perpetrator who is alleged to have physically abused his girlfriends. Kristi Kar, a first-year masters student of English, was the only one to have shared her story.
“He would beat me up for minor inconveniences every day, and it resulted in bruises and cut marks all over my face and body,” she said.
According to her, he would allegedly gaslight her to the extent that she ended up apologising and blaming herself, just so he would not hit her further. “I know from his exes that he’s abused them physically too,” she says. She urged others to come out with their own accounts and extend solidarity.
While it does take a lot of courage and conviction to speak against these ‘intellectuals’ who put up a facade of being sensitive, it must not end with calling people out, said Navamita Chandra, a second-year masters student in film studies.
“These toxic cycles must be broken. We cannot bow down and keep moving on, and that can only be possible if we are fierce and supportive of each other,” she said.
The underlying message is that the university has failed to provide a “safe” space for women. Abuse of any kind is harmful and turns a safe environment into a toxic one. And that’s exactly what’s happened here.
The Student Federation of India, on May 9, issued a press release stating the expulsion of S. in lieu of multiple allegations against him.
“SFI stands by the victims and assures any kind of help for their mental health as they are going through traumatic situations. We assure strengthening the practice of gender sensitization within the organisation,” said the press release.
However, there hasn’t been any news of any further action against him or the other alleged perpetrators.
The student union tried reaching out to the administration to seek their response on the matter but they refused to do so. Ever since the allegations surfaced, the perpetrators have deleted their Facebook accounts and cannot be found on campus. This reporter tried reaching out to them for comment, but did not hear back.
Some professors, however, have expressed solidarity with the victims on Facebook.
It is high time that a transparent system to handle these cases be put in place rather than stopgap compliance measures. Breaking the silence may be the first step, but unless the university chooses to undertake any action, it cannot be addressed or rooted out in its entirety.
Srijita Datta is a post-graduate student of English Literature at Jadavpur University. Her work has appeared in The Statesman, Sahapedia and The Quint. She tweets @srijitad_.
Featured image credit: Srijita Datta