What’s happening in National Law University, Delhi is unparalleled-- a number of women and men have come out to share their own stories of sexual harassment, and rather than brushing these stories under the carpet, the student body has come out in massive numbers to express their solidarity with the survivors. Despite what knee-jerk responses to this movement would lead you to believe, sexual harassment is not limited to one college campus. Survivors across the board, in all colleges, are silenced and made to negate their own experiences. They are deterred from filing complaints, among other things, due to the stigma attached to being a victim of sexual harassment, as well as out of misplaced concern for the perpetrator’s future over the victim’s well-being. This leads to a culture of normalisation, where most people (including the victim) believe that such behaviour is acceptable unless the victim fits the stereotype of the ‘ideal victim’ and the violation fits into what society conventionally views as immoral.
In NLUD, however, the level of introspection this movement has encouraged is unprecedented in magnitude. This has led to an open conversation about sex and sexual assault on campus. It has crushed the illusion that ‘woke’ people, who have a feminist vocabulary, cannot be responsible for sexual misconduct. As a result of this, a number of people have been forced to challenge their own assumptions and are reevaluating their own notions of what appropriate sexual behaviour is.
However, the sensationalism with which this movement has been reported in media so far threatens to jeopardise the potential of the movement, and the change that it seeks to bring. Portraying sexual harassment to be the problem of one college, simply because people have spoken up about it, might end up stifling similar movements before they have even begun, in other Universities, for fear of institutional disrepute. Moreover, pitting men and women against each other, as opposed to using this movement as a means to reflect and find ways of working together towards a broader understanding of sexual harassment, oversimplifies the issue at hand. Not taking the consent of the survivors, and in fact ignoring their pleas to not publish their accounts verbatim, takes away from their agency. This agency is, ironically, exactly what the movement is trying to protect in the first place. We would hope that the control that women were exercising over their own narratives, as a result of this movement, is not taken away by such thoughtless conduct.
The University has responded by taking certain immediate measures, such as the appointment of mental health professionals with expertise in counseling victims of sexual violence. The administration has not dismissed the accounts of the survivors or attempted to stifle discourse. We have a long way to go in terms of ensuring that the prevalent patriarchal structures are dismantled. The student body and the administration are in the process of discussing long-term institutional reforms that can be used to combat the problem and bring about a cultural shift. We are hopeful that this will lead to meaningful discourse and reform in the way Universities all overview notions of consent, boundaries, and toxic masculinity.