Police action on women protesting sexual harassment of a female student at India’s premier Banaras Hindu University has led to a national struggle to end gender discrimination.
In Patna, Bihar a group of citizens have started Aawazein, which has begun a series of interventions and activities to sensitize the students and teaching community about gender issues.
‘We must appeal to the teaching community to begin reading and understanding issues like patriarchy, feminism, gender, human rights in the context of the Indian constitution’, says Prof. Shanker Dutt, one of the voices in the collective.
From UCA News:
The protest continuing nearly for a week “shows that the country has no place for gender equality,” said Jyotsna Chatterjee, director of the Joint Women’s Program of the Church of North India.
Trouble began in the university, situated in the Hindu-holy city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh state, after a female student was sexually molested Sept. 21 by a group of young men, leaving her traumatized.
The security guard on campus refused to help the young woman. On reporting the incident, the hostel warden on campus blamed the victim for being out alone.
Some young women protested outside the warden’s office but the protest grew bigger as other female students joined in demanding justice for the victim and action to end gender discrimination in the university.
However, police on Sept. 23, baton-charged the women to disperse them. The police action injured some of them, which led to a national outcry.
The state government has ordered an inquiry into the police action that injured the students.
However, women student leaders told media the issue is more than just about security. The latest case of harassment was only a trigger to long-standing discriminative policies.
They say the university strictly maintains a “dos and don’t” code for women which bans them from wearing Western dress and restricts their movement out of the hostel.
Women leaders such as Chatterjee said such restrictions on women are seen in several universities, and expresses a patriarchal mindset. Restrictions are put even on the use of mobile phones and internet.
“Even the educational institutions that are supposed to show the direction for justice and equality are failing,” said Chatterjee.
Leaders need to change their mindset to ensure gender justice in the country, said Sister Mary Scaria, a lawyer in New Delhi. “If those in responsibility do not act and keep women subjugated, how can you expect justice or equality for women?” asked the nun from the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary congregation.
Presentation Sister Anastasia Gill, a member of the Delhi Minorities Commission, said the incident has raised some serious questions over the treatment of women in India.
It shows that “the moment women start coming out and exhibit their courage” society takes note of it and stands against them. She wanted more women to challenge the system and create social change for gender equality.
In India, there is much discrimination against women with many families preferring boys to girls and opt for female feticide, despite that being a crime. India has 927 women for every 1,000 men, while naturally women number more than men.
Girls are also considered a financial burden as families need to pay dowry — jewellery, property and money — as a precondition for their marriage.
A bill to reserve 33 percent of seats to women in parliament was introduced in 2008 but has not been passed yet.