A controversy over the disbanding of a gender cell has taken a new turn in Jawaharlal Nehru University, with a section of women students questioning self-defence training sessions started by the Internal Complaints Committee(ICC) set up by the administration.
The training sessions, the very first initiative of the ICC, formed after the disbanding of the Gender Sensitive Committee Against Sexual Harassment, or GSCASH, have kicked up an outcry.
Some students pointed out such sessions put the onus on women to protect themselves, an approach that conflicted with that of GSCASH, which focused on gender sensitisation with workshops, films and meetings.
JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) president Geeta Kumari, who was also a student representative to GSCASH in 2015, said though it was important to learn martial arts, anti-sexual harassment bodies should focus on gender sensitisation initiatives.
“A woman should be left undisturbed not because she knows karate, but out of regards to her freedom and choice,” she said.
The ICC, set up by the JNU administration replacing GSCASH amid opposition from many sections, began its 10-day self-defence training in collaboration with the Delhi Police on October 23.
Student Swati Simha, who boycotted the training, said the problem with the measure was that it was a “remedial approach” that put the onus on the victim on defending herself against sexual harassment.
“Our physical prowess cannot be a mechanism to fight for gender justice. By participating in such events we do not want to legitimise victim blaming,” she said. ICC presiding officer Vibha Tandon, however, stressed that self-defence training was an important part of national policy.
“I don’t think doing anything positive for women is wrong. We would also be conducting gender sensitisation programmes which will be announced shortly,” Tandon said. Some ICC members have also been accused of not having any experience in handling sexual harassment cases.
“The committee is constituted with members who have no prior experience in working with any body that deals with gender,” former JNUSU general secretary Satarupa Chakraborty said. Teachers’ union president Ayesha Kidwai stressed such sessions did not address harassment.
“Can a woman student give a karate chop to her PhD supervisor when he touches her inappropriately? Will the university not immediately punish her if she did,” she asked. However, an ICC member who asked not to be named said several gender sensitisation initiatives were in pipeline which the committee would announce in the coming weeks.
“We recently came across an incident in which a woman student complained about a security guard who stared at her while she was practising yoga. On asking the guard he explained he had never seen women doing yoga in his village and was intrigued by it. Sensitising such people needs time,” the member said.
JNUSU has been spearheading a protest against the university administration and UGC demanding the reinstatement of GSCASH.