Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Viswa Bharati Outrage

Pic 1: Rally taken out by student fraternity of Kolkata organized by the Sikkim Students Association of Kolkata
Pic 2: 
Visvabharati – The general body of students of Viswa Bharati university also mark their protest and support for their fellow student from Sikkim. 
Pic 3:  
Sikkim univ – Peace rally held by students of Sikkim University in Gangtok.  
Tagore wanted to bridge the gap between the East and the West and so established the Viswa Bharati University at Shantiniketan. The Nobel Laureate believed in open air education and had his misgivings about teaching imparted in four-walled enclosures. Given the recent events and circumstances at the University and other regions as well, these four walled enclosures have become synonymous to our blinkered minds and mind space. The belief of Tagore that walls represent the conditioning of the mind seems to have a direct resonance with the tunnel vision, brittle mindset and cheap outlook that our youth seem to be adopting. A major causative factor contributing to this development seems to be the entire learning model of present day India and its players from teachers to politicians.
The way Sikkim’s daughter and her family were castigated and made to suffer further humiliation at the hands of certain professors and others at Viswa Bharati University after she had been molested, blackmailed and victimized by a group of seniors is a horror story in itself. It exposes a huge vacuum of trust, respect, commitment and adherence to a basic humane ideology and any kind of a value system. In spite of this vacuum, the girl from Sikkim found the courage and steadfastness to speak out and this, as always, is infectious. A few days later another girl came out with her story of suffering saying that the girl from Sikkim had given her the courage to speak up.
The way the girl from Sikkim stuck to her story, the manner in which she persevered in the face of open hostility, the way her parents stood by her, the way the entire student fraternity of the north east came out on to the streets to protest and demand action - is inspiring. This should not be allowed to fade and be lost in the cacophony of our ravaging thoughts and chores. Something beautiful can be built upon this foundation that has been created.
The father of the girl, talking to Sikkim NOW! from Burdwan, West Bengal, echoed this sentiment.
“There should be a system for securing the situation of north east students. A commission to look into the security of students from north east has been established by the centre but there needs to be an initiative on the part of the student fraternity itself. North east students all over the country need to unite and put into place a system wherein all first year students can avail all necessary information about the institutes of their choice; this can be disseminated by the senior students. The can put in place a central committee for awareness generation, for sharing of information, counseling etc.”
His idea of such a body is that it would familiarize the students, particularly the first year students, on the environment, administration, faculty and related matters. At the same time it would also maintain a database of north east students and pass on information to their respective state governments. This is definitely a workable idea and something that needs to be kick-started at the earliest. The father of the victim girl also expressed that he was ready to share his experience and fullest cooperation to any such initiative.
Viswa Bharati means communion of the world with India. If nothing else, Tagore’s university may yet play a focal role in bridging the gap between India and the north east.
The Incident
The Bolpur police have arrested 3 of the 4 accused in the molestation and blackmailing of the Fine Arts student from Sikkim at Viswa Bharati University. The fourth accused has not even been identified as yet. A senior Sikkim student at the university informs that the fourth person is not a student. The girl, according to information, had been stripped, had her pictures taken in order that she could be blackmailed and extorted. On the other hand, as the senior student from Sikkim informs, the university authorities didn’t support the victim and rather conspired to cover up the incident.
According to reports, on 08 August, three seniors from the University forcefully took her in a car and then tried to sexually assault her. They stripped her, took pictures and threatened her saying they will circulate it if the girl narrates the incident. The girl was even forced to cough up Rs 4,000 by the boys according to the complaint lodged with the university authorities. The incident came to light only in the last week of August and was picked up by the media in early September. The university administration, till then, had been attempting to cover up the incident, resorting even to intimidating and harassing the girl and her parents. They were almost kept in confinement and not allowed to approach the police under the pretext of discussions. In fact, the university authorities initially denied any such incident. It was only with the girl’s perseverance and the support of fellow students that the university, finally on 30 August, lodged an FIR with the police. The police, in turn, have been cooperative and have appointed a lady SI, Nandita Das as the investigating officer of the case.
The girl is also alleged to have been beaten up by the accused in order to dissuade her from going to the police. While this is not confirmed she has been hospitalized due to the severe trauma she experienced.
“She was first sent to the Syon hospital on the night of 3 September where a CT scan was required; however there were no proper facilities here so she had to be taken to the Burdwan hospital at around midnight. She was taken there on a vehicle and the police provided security. She reached Burdwan at 2 a.m.,” informed the victim’s fellow student at the Santiniketan university.  The girl has suffered severe mental trauma. The CT scan came clean, it is informed. However the girl was so weak that she had to be provided with saline drips, inform the victim’s fellow student.
With mounting media and student pressure, the college administration finally lodged an FIR with the Bolpur police. Talking to SikkimNOW!, a senior student from Sikkim informs that the 3 accused who were arrested have confessed to their guilt. “They have also stated that the principal of Kala Bhavan along with 3 professors and 2 senior students attempted to cover up and conceal the incident,” she informed.  And since this incident has been given wide media publicity a couple of other similar complaints by girl students have also emerged putting the Tagore varsity in a further mire of dark suspicions and conspiracies.
In fact reports suggest that the current VC has been accused of sexual harassment in the past.
“We are trying to provide all the help and support we can,” says the senior student referring to the concerted efforts of students from other north east regions including Darjeeling and also other ‘general’ students. She adds that Burdwan is over an hour’s distance from Santiniketan so it is not all that simple to take the journey and with classes still on. However she informs that two students are there to provide company and support. As per the father of the hospitalized girl, she was due to be discharged on 10 September. “Thereafter we will return to Sikkim”, the father informed SikkimNOW!
He is yet to lodge an FIR however he informs that he would lodge one as soon as his daughter has recovered. He said that he would also file a complaint against the university administration for their role in his daughter’s harassment.
Support has poured in from all quarters for the girl from Sikkim harassed and victimized by her seniors at Viswa Bharati University. Students have protested and rallied in Kolkata, Santiniketan and Gangtok in a show of solidarity. It is not just students from north east who have been demonstrating but students from all over the country who have participated in these rallies.
On 7 September a group of six students met with the UGC fact finding team and put up a charter of demands to the UGC; included in this team was Diki Choden, a senior student from Sikkim pursuing her PhD at Viswa Bharati team. She talks to Sikkim Now on the demands list submitted:
The victim girl has decided not to pursue her studies at the university then she should be allowed admission into any college of her choice where she can pursue Fine Arts.
The girl should not be harassed. Often in such cases there is an attempt to malign the girl and her character. This should not be done. The authorities have been trying to conceal and blame the girl instead. This should stop.
The safety and security of victimized girl should be ensured. The security around the campus also should be enhanced with mobile patrol vans so that all girls in the university feel secure.
The University should not put any restriction on the movement of any student especially girl students or put any conditions on the movement of students.
There should be proper dissemination of information about the internal committee on prevention of sexual harassment, its functions and on the committee members. The students need to be made aware about this committee. Information about this committee should also be included in the University prospectus so that students know that such a committee exists.
Demand that the Vice Chancellor establish a Gender Sensitization committee and publicize it. All faculty members other employees of the university should be made to attend gender sensitization workshops. This workshop should be organized and facilitated by an external agency.
Ms. Diki informed that the vice chancellor has agreed to form a gender sensitization committee and has already notified all departments of the university on it and asked them to send representatives.

Crimes against women in the country as a whole is a sad reality but women from the North East are particularly vulnerable to such acts because of a cultural disconnect between mainland India and the North Eastern region.  Women from the North East living in the metros especially New Delhi have for a long time been the target of violence.
Jan 2014: Two young women from Manipur were thrashed in full public view by some local goons at Kotla Mubarakpur in New Delhi on 25 January 2014.
Feb 2014: A 14-year-old girl from Manipur was allegedly raped by her landlord's son on the night of 07 February at south Delhi's Munirka area. The victim was staying with her relatives.
May 2014: Three people including a woman lawyer were assaulted at the Tis Hazari court, New Delhi on 23 May, allegedly by a mob of about 30 lawyers. The trio had gone to the court in connection with a molestation case filed by a student from the North East against an advocate. On 22 May, a woman from Nagaland, studying at the Delhi University was allegedly molested by a lawyer at the Vishwavidyalaya Metro Station in North Delhi.
May 2013: AS Reingamphi from Manipur was found dead in her rented accommodation in Chirag Dilli. There were signs of assault on her nose, face and legs. The girl's relatives submitted a complaint to the police accusing the landlord and his brother in law of sexually assaulting and murdering her, but no action was taken. It was only after three days of pressure and after protesters gathered in various parts of Delhi that the police lodged a complaint.
Dec 2010: A 30-year-old call centre employee from Manipur was picked up by four men in Dhaula Kuan and gang raped in a moving vehicle. she and her colleague also from the north east were dropped outside the gate of their colony by the office cab driver. they were barely 100 metres away from the gate when the four men, travelling in a goods carrier abducted one of them
Oct 2009: Ramchanphy Hongray, a 19-year-old from Manipur was sexually assaulted, strangled to death and her body burnt at her rented apartment in Munirka by Pushpam Sinha, a PhD scholar of IIT Delhi.
May 2009: A call centre employee from Mizoram was gang raped in south west Delhi in 2005. The 20-year-old Delhi university student was abducted by four men traveling in a car. she was later dumped in Dhaula Kuan.

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