Monday, 17 November 2014

Forum for Democratic Rights in EFL University

Forum for Democratic Rights in EFL University
November 17, 2014
Press Note
A Public Meeting will be held Arts College grounds of Osmania University Hyderabad-500007 on 19th November, 2014 from 4:00pm to 6:00pm.
The recent horrific incident of the gang rape of a girl student that took place in the EFLU men's (Basheer) hostel on the night of 31st October 2014. The victim contacted the University authorities and was directed to the police who then arrested two accused on 2nd November 2014. While this case of sexual assault on the university campus has deeply shocked the campus community, students, faculty and staff, even more shocking and worrying has been the attitude adopted by the university administration in its aftermath. Instead of seeking to undertake measures to make the campus free of violence and assault and promoting gender-sensitivity, the administration has resorted to several measures that are nothing short of severe repression of all democratic rights of the campus community as a whole. In this context, we as concerned citizens and members of women's organisations, civil rights, students and minority rights forums have come together to form the "Forum for Democratic Rights in EFLU". We demand an immediate and thorough enquiry into the incident of gang rape and the suppression of democratic rights.
Immediately after the incident, there were some reports with speculations about the victim's presence in the men's hostel. Aided by selective leaks by the University and the police, these reports amounted to character assassination and victim blaming, and divulged crucial information regarding the complainant's identity. This pernicious reasoning amounts to nothing but a justification of the crime. From the well-known case of Rameeza Bee to the recent Nirbhaya Act, it has been repeatedly asserted that the act of sexual assault or gang rape cannot be justified citing the previous history of the victim. We strongly condemn the propaganda to malign the victim and underplay the gravity of the rape. The complainant must be provided with adequate and competent legal counsel, her psychological and emotional well-being must be taken care of, and her safety must be ensured.
However, we, the members of "Forum for Democratic Rights in EFLU", feel that the EFLU authorities acted in a manner that proved that they are completely incapable of and insensitive towards ensuring gender justice on campus. The SAKSHAM report of the UGC states that gender sensitization is the most effective way to counter misogyny on campus. As per the Act passed by the Parliament and UGC orders, the GSCASH (Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment) is a Committee that must be set up at every university to both carry out sensitization programmes as well as to deal with sexual harassment complaints. The EFL University has thus far not conducted any campaign or awareness programmes and has violated all UGC/GoI regulations in the constitution of such a committee. It is clearly stated that GS-CASH must include elected student representatives but no such representatives have been elected from the students. It is also mandatory that information regarding GS-CASH, the names of its members and their contact numbers be widely publicized on campus. No such information is publicly available till date.
Insensitive Response of the University
We are shocked that neither the Vice Chancellor nor the Registrar visited the campus when the incident of gang rape came to light on 2nd November. The administration has not conducted an internal enquiry into the matter, in spite of the students' demand for such enquiry. In fact, the University administration did not call for even an emergency meeting to instil confidence among the women students and other sections of the university. Thus far, the Head of the institution and the other officials have not bothered to initiate a dialogue on the campus on the issue. Instead, the University has systematically tried to suppress any discussion on the atrocity. In fact, a letter to the faculty from the Vice-Chancellor subtly warns against treating this incident as “an occasion for politics or to extend empty symbolic gestures.”
The next dayon 3rd November, the VC called for a meeting with students at 11.30 am in front of the Administrative building. However, she came to this meeting along with the Deputy Commissioner of Police who spoke to the students while the VC herself remained silent. She did not meet the students despite their request to submit a memorandum. When the atrocity came to light, women's rights, human rights, other activist organizations gathered outside the gates, requesting audience with the VC and to offer whatever support required to the complainant and the students, but they were not allowed to enter. The President of the State Women's Rights Commission too was made to wait outside.The media was not allowed.
All this is, however, not surprising in the least given the current administration’s track record as far as student issues are concerned. Time and again, involving the local police at the slightest hint of trouble has been its standard response. A general disregard for democratic norms or dialogue on the campus and an escalating policy of segregation and repression has been the Vice Chancellor’s response. Examples of this are many—Last year, in a case which involved a student who was struggling to express his homosexual identity and one which required a nuanced and sensitive approach, the administration sent the said student for “counselling” to the police. He later committed suicide. Despite several protests by students and other groups and in a shocking travesty of justice, people responsible for his suicide continue to hold key positions of power within the University administration.
Earlier this year, three students were rusticated after the students' body participated in a protest against the closing down of the only 24x7 reading room on campus. The University did not accept the rusticated student’s thesis even after the High Court order. One student's fellowship money was stopped for four months following an argument with a Faculty member about implementation of reservations. Another student's fellowship money has been stopped for two months because he enquired about lack of water in the hostels. Each of these students has also been issued sho cause notices and threatened with rustications. Yet another student was denied admission in a research programme for being an active member of the students' movement on campus, even after clearing the entrance and the interview. There are also various instances of tampering with the entrance results, basically denying admission to politically aware students. As a result of such petty punitive measures, students are not coming forward to participate in elections fearing a denial of admission into research courses in future. In this time of crisis, there is no elected student body to represent the students.In the name of ensuring safety and security, the administration has installed CCTV cameras all over the campus including the Hostels. However, these seem to function more as surveillance mechanisms to monitor students' activities.
Restrictions and police presence are offered as the only solutions to the recent tragic incident too. The measures of policing, segregation and restrictions adopted by the university are in clear violation of the UGC SAKSHAM Report recommendation that "Campus safety policies should not result in securitization, over-monitoring or policing or curtailing the freedom of movement, especially for women."
Gross Repression of Democratic Activity
In the light of the administration's insensitive handling of the incident, the EFLU community took up the task of sensitization themselves. Various students' organizations issued public statements as did the Teachers' Association and Alumnae. When the students organized a poster campaign to sensitize the campus, these posters were removed in the middle of the night. Various other awareness initiatives taken by students like street plays and poetry reading sessions were immediately banned. Instead of following the UGC mandate that “as democratic citizens, students are entitled to freedom of thought and expression within and outside their institution” the university notice stated that “students participating or committing such acts will be strictly dealt with."
Further, we learnt that when some members of the Faculty organized an Open House many horrifying revelations about underlying misogynist practices by persons holding high administrative positions came to the fore. Both the Proctor’s Office and Hostel administration are headed by members who are ignorant about gender rights or human rights’ regulations while dealing with the day-to-day affairs of students on campus. Some students even pointed out experiences of sexist and filthy language and abuses from a person holding a senior post in the hostel administration.
We are further surprised that the administration responded to the Open House by issuing a further notice, banning “all self-styled bodies from conducting any cultural activities on campus.” It also went on to ban all political organizations on campus which is again a clear violation of UGC mandate which states, "The college/ university must allow space for free exchange of ideas and public debate ... College/ university authorities must not impose unreasonable, partisan or arbitrary restrictions on organising seminars, lectures and debates that do not otherwise violate any law.”
It is amply evident that EFLU has reached a state where that the fundamental rights of its participants are curbed at every step. At this juncture, we the “Forum for Democratic Rights in EFLU” find it imperative to show our solidarity with the EFLU community and to put forward the following demands to make the EFL University a truly democratic and gender sensitive campus.
A Public Meeting will be held Arts College grounds of Osmania University Hyderabad-500007 on 19th November, 2014 from 4:00pm to 6:00pm.
We demand that
1) The University should extend legal, medical and other kinds of support to the complainant in fighting the case;
2) The Police should complete the investigation into the gang rape caseinan impartial mannerwithin the time frame set as per Nirbhaya Act and reveal the role of all parties involved.
3) Stop involving the police in matters of student activity and day-to-day University affairs. The statutory committees for discipline, grievances, welfare and other issues must be activated immediately to address and resolve issues. They should be duly and fully constituted in a transparent and representative manner with elected student and teacher representatives. These include the GSCASH as well as Hotel Advisory Committees, Student-Teacher committees, and Student Grievance Committees.Conduct student elections and elections immediately.
4) Immediately withdraw all circulars, show cause notices and oral decisions issued to curb democratic forms of expression. Respect the rights of students and staff to engage in creative, cultural and other forms of dialogue and mobilizations on campus;
5) Implement UGC/MHRD guidelines on sexual harassment, caste discrimination and democratic rights in letter and spirit.
6) The MHRD should order an independent probe in to the authoritarian and undemocratic functioning of the university and the violation of UGC/MHRD rules by the Vice Chancellor.
All India Democratic Women's Association
Asmita Resource Center for Women
Progressive Organization of Women
Anveshi Research Centre for Women’s Studies
National Federation of Indian Women
Chaitanya Mahila Sangham
P.A.Devi (Cultural Activist)
Dalita Stree Shakti
Progressive Organization of Women
Telangana Hijra Transgender Samiti
Hyderabad For Feminism
Human Rights Law Network,
Indian Lawyers Union
Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee,
OU Joint Action Committtee
Lambada Hajkkula Porata Samiti
All India Student Federation, OU
Dalit Bahujan Cultural Association, OU
Sujatha Surepally, Satavahana University

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Update from last two weeks

The night of 31st October, 2014- a woman student was raped in Basheer men’s hostel at EFLU, Hyderabad. While EFLU may not have been the most gender-just place on earth, the community had always been vocal regarding gender matters and against gender assault .This horrific assault again brought back the realisation of exactly how unfair is the society we live in, and also the fact that the university is after all a reflection of the world outside our gated community. This post is to tell you about the ways in which EFLU community has tried to to cope with the event, and the repressive mechanisms employed by the administration that 

The EFLU community reacted, responded in various ways. While the accused were arrested and judicial processes started, on 2nd November, 2014, the students of the university took out a march and a demonstration condemning the rape, expressing their solidarity with the complainant and demanding justice for her. Alongside, they also deplored segregationist policies of the current administration, which, instead of raising awareness regarding gender, choose to stop free expression, and regulate movement.  The students demanded immediate reconstitution of the GSCASH with elected student representatives, an internal complaints committee to look into the incident of rape, an end to moral policing and policing of the campus, and end to segregation.

This is an image from 2nd October night, with the EFLU students inside the gate, protesting alongside their compatriots from other universities, who were not allowed entry.  

The next day 3rd of November, representatives from students gave their demands to the Vice Chancellor and also asked for an open meeting with her. The VC did meet the students, but along with a high ranking police officer, who assured them:
"All the boys in the boy’s hostel are potential rapists, we must save the girls from them and I have every right to barge into your hostel rooms whenever I need to".

Police forcibly removed students from in front of the VC’s car and that was the end to attempted dialogue. The newspaper reports also quoted the VC as saying:
"We have already banned the entry of boys into the girls' hostel. In future we will restrict girls’ from the boys’ hostel. Guards and cameras are already in place." This statement and the banning of women students from the men's hostel is in clear violation of the Saksham guidelines which states "Campus safety policies should not result in securitization, over-monitoring or policing or curtailing the freedom of movement, specially for women."

The above statement by the VC and subsequent actions by the administration violates every law, rule, guideline and constitutional guarantee that makes us independent free individuals and students. 

In the mean time, women’s groups and activist groups gathered outside the gates, they requested an audience with the VC, they wanted to show their support and solidarity with the students and the survivor, but were not allowed entry. Even the Women Rights Commissioner was made to wait outside. Again, no newspaper coverage, except the statement by a right wing political leader mourning the "lack of Indian culture" in EFLU.
As the administration continued with deploying more and more policemen, and security guards to "protect" the students, promised more CCTV cameras- the community tried to react and build gender sensitivity on campus in innovative ways. On Tuesday, 4th November students organised poster painting campaign on campus, seeking to sensitize themselves and the administration, while they are at it, about the importance of bringing gender to the fore. The strung the posters around a lawn which they did not have access to, hoping that at least random people passing by will take a look.


The posters however are not there anymore. A week later, the administration employed the caretaker to take them off, with the fear that it will “incite students to violence”.
Other events followed. A group of students took to cross-dressing, to question gender binaries and segregation.  

On Sunday, 9th November, students organised a workshop on legal recourse in the face of sexual violence.
All through, the local media was rife with victim blaming, the campus was locked down, no one without a university ID card was allowed to enter (except the police of course) and the English language media published biased news articles.
This statement by Democratic Women’s Movement EFLU criticizes the culture of victim blaming.

 While residents of Basheer Men’s Hostel uniformly condemned the sexual assault and made pleas for a more inclusive campus, the Hindu published fabricated news about how men on campus do not want women to enter their hostels. First, this movement is not about hostel entry. Inability to enter each others hostels is just a symptom of a greater malaise: the gender unfair campus that this administration seems determined to build.
The women’s hostels, the alumni (click here to read the statement) and the Teachers’ Association also issued public statements- asking for sensitisation and a restoration of democracy on campus.
The administration responded with further repression:

Incitement to violence was the stated reason behind “banning” the street play “Kissa Kursi Ka”, held on Monday 10th November. A political satire on the contemporary situation in the country and in the university, taking up the art form most beloved of activists and protesters across India, was served a notice.  How do people organise street plays? If tomorrow someone wanted to organise a play on the streets of Hyderabad, would they write to the President of India? Or the CM? And why?

This here is the notice:
Another notice followed in a few hours' interval:


Both the above notices go directly against the UGC guidelines for students' entitlement, which states:
"As democratic citizens, students are entitled to freedom of thought and expression within and outside their institution. The college/ university must allow space for free exchange of ideas and public debate so as to foster a culture of critical reasoning and questioning. College/ university authorities must not impose unreasonable, partisan or arbitrary restrictions on organising seminars, lectures and debates that do not otherwise violate any law."
What law does a street play violate? Held during the lunch hour and getting over in less than ten minutes?
In the meantime concerned faculty members organised an open house where students and faculty repeatedly questioned the role of the university administration in building a more inclusive campus. The call was unambiguous, we are doing our bit, you do yours.  Students pointed out the rules that went directly against the UGC guidelines regarding the students’ right to freedom of expression- and the constitutional guarantees that make us what we are. However, repression continues; while the community fights back.
Movement to reclaim spaces has slowly started. On Tuesday 11th November, students entered the a lawn that was made inaccessible to them years ago, to show their support, their grief and their strength through a poetry reading.

 On Wednesday, 12th November, the Teachers’ Association organised a meeting with women’s groups from the city, all of whom expressed solidarity with the community’s attempts to build a more gender sensitive campus.

As of now, a GSCASH (as per the initial demands) has not been constituted. If there are reports to the contrary, then they are lies, because the student representatives on the committee seriously, cannot be the toppers from each class. There has not been students elections that will then send elected representatives to the GSCASH. The administration has not taken up any sensitisation efforts, but has instead ordered for seven more CCTV cameras to monitor the community.  The internal Complaints Committee has not yet been discussed.

If you feel  that the state of affairs at EFLU- Hyd must come to an end, the complainant must get justice- please raise your voice in support. Talk about it on social media (with the hashtags #eflucommunityforgenderjustice, #efluchutzpah), make your newspapers report what we are doing, come and visit us and sign our petitions.