A Jadavpur University student recently alleged on social media that a fellow student had touched her inappropriately and 'violated' her during a feminist protest event held inside campus. However, what started as a case of sexual harassment soon escalated into one of caste oppression after the accused went missing.
A brief timeline of events
On Januray 15, the victim, along with several other students, participated in a feminist protest organised by an alliance of JU student bodies, USDF (United Student's Democratic Front) and Radical. She later wrote a Facebook post accusing a Radical member of 'touching her on the waist' and in other inappropriate ways.
On January 28, after several internal discussions and meetings with Radical, USDF posted on their official Facebook page naming the accused Radical member and calling him out on his actions. No official complaints with the police or internal committees was filed.
On February 2, the accused, an MPhil student in JU, allegedly unable to deal with the public shaming, disappeared from his hostel room.
On February 3, the boy's family lodged an FIR against the girl who had alleged harassment, along with four other members of USDF who had supported her stand. The girl has been slapped with defamation charges while the four others have been charged with the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 and also kidnapping.
On February 6, the girl, along with her supporters and members of USDF were attacked by members of Radical who called the girl a liar. The victim wrote another post on Facebook regarding the attack.
Currently, students and political parties within campus are divided on the issue, with many claiming that the girl, the initial victim, along with members of USDF, led a smear campaign against the ST boy due to personal differences.
'If she had been facing regular harassment as she alleges, why then would she not go to the police or the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) that addresses these concerns? Publicly shaming a boy is hardly the solution." a Jadavpur student (name withheld) told ScoopWhoop News.
However, the victim claims that going to authorities is not always the answer.
"The incident happened during a campaign in which we were breaking the locks on the doors of women's washrooms with rods. If I went to the police, they would have blamed me for vandalism instead and not considered it molestation at all since the crime was not 'sexual enough' in nature'. Such things have happened before." the girl told ScoopWhoop News in an email interview.
Citing the examples of Ekalavya Chowdhury. a JU student who was accused of harassment by almost a dozen women last year, the victim told ScoopWhoop News:
"Even the ICC is useless since they often indulge in victim shaming. Take last year for example, or even the 2014 incident. They totally dismissed the victims in both cases."
In 2014, the molestation of a student had led to mass protests in universities across the city, against unresponsive and insensitive college machinery to deal with such incidents.
General Secretary of USDF, Soumo Mondal, told ScoopWhoop News over the phone:
"The girl is not part of either party but this happened to her during an event organised by the USDF-Radical alliance. She came to us with the complaint and we had to take responsibility. Sadly, Radical did not keep their end of the deal."
Caste-Shaming vs Victim-Shaming
The missing boy's brother has alleged in the FIR, and in the subsequent press release, that the five accused mentally tortured the boy over political differences.
"..my brother, being a member of the scheduled tribe, was unable to bear with such unprecedented insult fabricated against him by the assailants hailing from general caste following a "dispute" related to student politics on the campus.", the complaint states.
Jubi Saha, member of Radical, confirmed the allegations. She said that even when Radical had said that they will act on the issue, the girl took matters into her own hands and publicly named the boy, which only meant her intentions were to malign and not sorting the issue out.
"The boy himself said that had he not been from a low income Adivasi family, this would not have happened to him." Saha told ScoopWhoop News.
However, according to USDF's Mondal, who is one of the four facing kidnapping and discrimination charges, it was sad that a molestation case was being morphed into a caste issue.
"After we raised our voice against the incident, members of Radical came and roughed up some of us. In fact, one of the boys, who has been named in the FIR as committing atrocities against STs is himself ST. He was beaten up by a radical member who is upper caste. Should we too then scream caste oppression? It seems now that is the only choice." Mondal said,
He added they had only named the boy since in all previous cases of this type, the accused had been named and since this time the accused was a friend, they did not wish to appear partisanal.
Calling it blackmail, Mondal said Radical has claimed that they will try and convince the boy's family to retract their complaints once all the accused apologize and publicly accept that they had been intentionally maligning the missing boy, so that he can come back home, adding that they will do no such thing.
However, as of now, the girl, along with the four other accused, are praying for the safe return of the boy. As the girl, an undergraduate student of Film Studies puts it:
"I only know that he should come back immediately or our lives will be very difficult, full of unfair legal battles and victim blaming."
Feature Image Source: PTI