Campus Coercion

Editor’s Note

TEACHER-student relationship operates on trust. In this part of the world especially, it also demands a certain level of respect towards teachers from students. This relationship, defined culturally to facilitate an environment of conducive learning, humility in learning and the spirit of pursuit of knowledge, is one that is almost deified in our culture – and rightly so. However, such a relationship also breeds within it a space where this dynamic can potentially leave scope for some abuse of power. Men face the brunt of it and so do women. However, in the case of women, this dynamic is further complicated by virtue of her gender. 

In higher education especially, most learning happens outside classrooms. Students and teachers are both adults in academic spaces and regulations are loosened to allow ease of interaction and access for the sake of education. Yet, even this opening up does not fix the lopsided hierarchy that remains vulnerable in the unequal relationship that teacher and students share. In this dynamic, power tilts towards the teachers who enjoy authority, power and social capital as well. It is this power that is often detrimentally used by some blacksheeps in academic spaces to exploit students, especially women. So much goes into the workings of power in this relationship that some believe that even consent falls short in cases where a teacher and a student share an intimate personal relationship. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that matters of sexual misconduct and abuse are even more grave in this case. They become difficult to avoid and even more difficult to report. Therefore, there’s a need to have complaint’s committees and gender sensitization cells within educational institutions to address these issues responsibly. 

The recent reports from GDC Sopore and SKAUST Wadoora of sexual harrasment allegations against two professors have kindled a renewed need to talk about sexual harassment within campuses. While the matters are still under investigation, personal testimonies within women’s own trustworthy circles have always been abundant with stories of sexual misconduct by faculty members. These personal stories circulate amongst women so they can be forewarned of possible danger. Since many women students in higher education fear harm to their education should they report, these reports don’t see the light of the day. 

While one must be conscious of prematurely making culprits out of alleged offenders, it is not right to ignore such matters and discourage women from speaking up. 

We asked some of our readers to comment on sexual harassment within campuses. Here are some of their responses: 

Ayman Ayoub

Unfortunately, there are no two bones about the fact that a deep-seated, oppressive patriarchy plagues our society, but being a woman, it is extremely heart-rending to see women having to pursue their education in such disabling and atrocious environments. Every such predator needs to be called out and tried properly for others to take a lesson.At the same time, in such instances, it needs to be ensured that we as a society  rise above the culture of victim-blaming so that the victims don’t have to face the trauma on both ends. Only then can we create safe environments for women at the workplace, educational institutions and elsewhere. At the same time we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that men too have to face such instances and should be granted due protection.

Quratulain Rehbar

This (GDC Sopore and SKAUST Wadoora case) is the rarest of sexual harrasment cases in Kashmir where girl students have spoken up. There are so many cases where the victim is told to remain silent. She’s told that reporting the crime would affect her image and no one would marry her in future.

Sexual harassment as well as victim blaming, unfortunately, happens within our families, friend circles, offices, and within classrooms. It is better to extend support and solidarity towards the victims who face sexual harrasment/molestation.

I’ve been told by a number of friends about how they faced molestation by elderly men in offices/educational spaces. They, however, don’t want to talk about it publicly out of fear. It’s a double-edged sword; both enduring the trauma and speaking up against it. It inevitably makes the girl suffer for the rest of her life. Yet, now, some girls have shown the courage to speak up. Please don’t ask them to be courteous to men who are harassing them.

There should be a discussion between you and your children in homes and parents need to understand what is  disturbing their kids.  I think it’s time to act rather than just talk!

Hirra Sultan 

A really disturbing news of a faculty member in SKAUST Wadoora being a sexual offender has come to light. It took students a written complaint, huge protests and a ruckus to get attention of both authorities as well as the public.  As per students, he is a repeat offender but as per university authorities, this is the first complaint they have received in this context.

This is not the first time that we have heard of such concerns from the students of a society. Even though our society considers Kashmir to be a pious place, behind closed doors, all kinds of evils take place without any consideration for religion or sin. Many a times we have heard of sexual favors being asked of students in KU as well, this is well known in student’s circles. There are also stories of singing and dancing that happen for the male faculty in the university. If we ask authorities there, would they admit?

Similarly, if we ask any of our male acquaintances that someone they know is not a good person, is hinting at gaining sexual favors or is trying to flirt, they will respond back with, “Mai usko ache se janta hun, woh aisa nahi hai”. Same happens to be the case with this particular faculty. People who know him claim he is old, close to his retirement, why would he do something like this with students his daughter’s age? “He is such a genuine and amiable person, for sure the student is lying. She must be taking out some revenge.” We have created a society where a complaint is looked at as vengeance instead of a concern.

Why do we want to let our men loose but lock the women up to protect them? Why do we put the liability of shame and honour on women but do not show men how to respect them?

Saadia Peerzada

The protest by male and female students on Friday evening is important as solidarity with the victim is key. After the news came to the forefront, there were reports of past offenses which haven’t been brought to light. The administration of the university must conduct thorough investigation to safeguard students against any further harassment. Surveys are an important tool to gauge what kind of student-experiences aren’t being spoken about, and if there are ways in which women are being made uncomfortable that haven’t been addressed by the university authorities. The admin is enshrined with the responsibility of making campus a safe space and must act accordingly.

To create greater awareness of workplace regulations, workshops must be conducted with faculty and students to address maintenance of a professional environment, boundaries and fair conduct. The power dynamics between faculty and students which can lead to coercion or silencing must also be addressed. Further, students must be briefed on their rights and support systems, if any, so that they can navigate the power systems around them. Further a Cell/Committee Against Sexual Harassment (CASH) can be put in place to address such cases, the members of which can be voted by the student body via a Google Form. All the steps will help students access a safer university environment.

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