Friday, December 24, 2010

Intersect: Summary of discussions


December 7, 2010


College students in the city continue to face sexual harassment on the street and while using public transport. This was discussed at Intersect, a consultative dialogue between students and the Chennai Police, facilitated by Prajnya as part of the 2010 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence.

The focus of the discussion was on safety in public spaces, looking primarily at issues of sexual harassment. Each college was represented by two students, majority of whom were office bearers or student union members. Students were given an opportunity to briefly present their key concerns:

  • Anna University identified misbehaviour by men in buses, and frequent phone calls from strangers as key issues. They also identified their college bus stop as not very safe, particularly in evenings.
  • Students of Ethiraj College identified Crescent Avenue as well as a tea shop outside the college where men gathered frequently to smoke and pass comments as their main problems.
  • Student representatives from Hindustan College identified the urgent need for more sustained, direct contact between the student council and the police.
  • For students of Madras Christian College, harassment on the trains, especially in the general compartments, was a real concern; given the college’s location in Tambaram, several students travel daily by train.
  • The presentation by Meenakshi College students reiterated all these issues.
  • Students of Queen Mary’s College described their helplessness when strangers took photos or videos of them on their cell phones; students also faced issues with drunk men loitering around bus stands and sexual harassment on buses.
  • Students from Women’s Christian College observed that girls who travel to college on bikes are often followed by groups of men or boys and harassed.
In their turn, the police officers responded to these observations by the students, describing several potential solutions:
  • Inspector Ariyamala described the 1091 helpline number, pointing out that it functioned as a 24 hour helpline for women in distress.
  • Inspector Muniandi advised the students to always note down the IMEI number of their cell phones; this information can be used in the event of any cell phone-related crimes.
  • Inspector Jawahar pointed out that most eve-teasers were students themselves and for that reason, prosecution is near impossible. “Families also believe that the girl’s future will also be spoilt if she is associated with a court case and they hesitate to come forward. If one college registers a case and we are able to take it forward, then this will discourage other mischief mongers”, he said.
  • Describing several cases, Inspector Subburaj noted that technology has been used to solve crimes.
  • Assistant Commissioner Ashokkumar explained the police system in Tamil Nadu to the students, describing the various roles and responsibilities. He urged students to always be aware of which jurisdiction they came under.

JC Seshasayee joined the discussion at this stage, and encouraged the student representatives to act as ambassadors and share their knowledge with other students. He asked them to contact the SMS helpline, 9500099100 in case they witnessed any emergencies but were hesitant to get involved.

Students from MCC observed that in colleges with students from several different cultural backgrounds, simple communication was often misunderstood as eve teasing. Where can one draw the boundaries of what constitutes eve teasing? The JC responded that it is up to the girl to decide whether a particular instance was eve teasing or not. “Normally, girls don’t give complaints just like that, she also has to spend her time in a station and forego many things”, he said. It was noted that harassment is what the person perceives and not necessarily what the perpetrator intends.

Students raised several questions; for instance, what could they do if they were harassed on the bus, and the harasser got off at the next stop. The JC assured them that the police would take into account what witnesses had to say and register a complaint based on that. Similarly, he advised that if a girl is followed by a group of boys in a desolate area with no one around, then it is best to use her cell phone to speak to her family, or even call 100 in case of an emergency. He also encouraged students to try and sort out issues at local and community levels in many cases.

Finally, students were unanimous that visits by women police officers would not only help students understand police procedures better but also motivate them to register complaints.

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