Thursday, 02 February 2023

Puthucherry, 14-11-2013: The suspended students of Pondicherry University called off their hunger strike temporarily in its 10th day as the Ministry of Human Resource Development ensured Dr. V. Sivadasan, the national president of SFI and the MPs who intervened in the issue to look into the issues and take necessary action. On the same day the Madras High Court stayed the suspension of six more students who reacted against the ragging and sexual harassment along with Kavya M., the victim whose suspension order was stayed by the court last week. The court order is a major blow to the University which is totally insensitive to the gender issues that prevalent in the campus.

In the history of the Pondicherry University this is the first time that a student movement has gained its goal. There have been several incidents of sexual harassment in the campus, even by the faculties in the recent past; but the authority turned a blind eye towards all these cases. Presently the University does not have a properly functioning mechanism to deal with sexual harassment issues which is must in the higher education institutions according to the Supreme Court and the U.G.C. 

In this context students from across the country studying in the University came in support of the suspended students and their cause. The suspension order has brought to the fore not only the insensitivity of the University, but also its autocratic stance, the students said. In these 10 days of hunger strike, many students from schools and colleges of Pondicherry and Tamilnadu boycotted their classes and came in support of the strike.

Two girl students of Pondicherry University who were threatened of sexual assault and subjected to ragging lodged a complaint with the University authorities. The University preferred to divert the issue by terming issue as group clash. The University has not bothered to look into the complaint from the perspective of sexual harassment, but has been repeatedly attempting to cover-up the issue by resorting to false propaganda. The Public Relations Officer has been issuing statements in an attempt to carry forward the ‘tale‘of group clash through the media. Mrs. Renuka Appdurai, former Education Minister who has assumed a new role as the self appointed spokesperson of the University has been repeatedly telling that various committees are at work to look into the complaints of students including the complaint of sexual harassment. The Students Federation of India wishes to prove certain facts on the following points or questions raised by the PRO and the new spokesperson.
Spokesperson (Mrs. Renuka Appadurai): Why the students have not lodged a complaint to the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Committee?

SFI: The affected students have lodged a complaint with The Vice-Chancellor and The Registrar who are learned professors and women. Why they have not forwarded the complaint to the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Committee, if it is functional? Why these authorities expect the complaints to be lodged only with Prevention of Sexual Harassment Committee? This shows the utter insensitivity of the University authorities.

PRO: There is no ragging, it was group clash.

SFI: The Director, SE I& RR, Pondicherry University in his Press statement on 05.10.2013, had stated the same. The fact being the Committee appointed under the Chairmanship of the Director, SEI & R R Pondicherry University, enquired about the complaint and submitted its report only on 14.10.2013. How come the University had come to the conclusion that it is an incident of group clash and not that of ragging even before it had conducted a thorough enquiry to ascertain the facts? This exposes the designs of the University to cover up the matter and to phoo phoo it.

Further the SFI wishes to remind the University authorities that the Honourable Chief Justice of India has observed on 12.11.2013 (as reported in the media on 13.11.2013 ) ‘the cases of sexual harassment cannot be taken lightly’. It is a shame that Pondicherry University authorities are still treating the complaint of sexual harassment ‘as lightly as possible’ by not only raising frivolous questions through the media and planting false stories, but also by punishing the complainant and her friends for having risen to defend the dignity of womenhood.

The Students Federation of India, on behalf of the student community, demands immediate revocation of suspension of students and institution of a committee by MHRD and UGC to enquire afresh on the complaints of sexual harassments in Pondicherry University.
Kindly publish this news item.

A.Anand Puducherry. State Secretary SFI


Dr. M. Mangapati Pallam Raju
The Minister of Human Resource Development
Government of India


Subject: Case of Sexual Harassment and Ragging in Pondicherry University

We wish to bring to your notice the appalling response of the Pondicherry University (PU) administration to the serious incidents of sexual harassment, ragging and intimidation of girl students in the university. Instead of punishing the perpetrators of the above-mentioned crimes, the PU administration has chosen to suspend the complainants and the students who stood by them.
The background to the recent developments is as follows. Kavya M. and Vidya T. Appukkuttan, who are first year students of M.A. Mass Communication and M.A. English, were ragged by Sreejith, a senior student of the Department of Physical Education on 21st September 2013. Jithu verbally abused the girls and when the girls told him that this is not the way he should talk, he threatened to rape them. He said that in the two years of the girls’ course of study in the University, he would assault them physically at any cost. He also used vulgar gestures at them. A day after the incident, this very same person went to the girls and told them that if they complained, he would sexually assault them. Monu, a friend of Kavya and Vidya who was with them when the first incident happened, was threatened by Sreejith that if the girls go ahead with the complaint, Sreejith would make their image stigmatized as ‘the girls who were sexually assaulted by Sreejith’.

The girl students subsequently filed a complaint, and the Kallapett police filed an FIR against the aggressor under IPC sections 506 and 509. The students who supported the girl students in filing the complaint were under constant threat, and on the morning of 1 October 2013, a gang of hooligans including Jithu manhandled them. They threatened that they would cut off the legs of those students who stood with the girl students if Jithu and other assailants are suspended from the University because of the complaint filed by the girl students. The gang also brutally beat up one of the students; his tooth was broken and he had to be admitted in JIPMER, Pondicherry. The security personnel of the University remained mute spectators throughout even as the gang unleashed violence.

When the girl complainant approached the Vice-Chancellor with her grievance, she was discouraged from filing the complaint – the VC’s prime “concern” was that the “reputation” of the institution would be spoiled. Such insensitivity of the University authorities has been one of the prime causes for the continuance of instances of sexual harassment in the campus. Following recent incidents, the students are under constant fear of being attacked at any moment. Ever since she filed the complaint, the girl student who was harassed has been continuously subjected to intimidation and threatened that she wouldn’t be allowed to complete her course of study in the University. Even more shockingly, the attempts to intimidate her were being led by Mr. Praveen, a faculty member of the Department of Physical Education. There are also attempts to divert attention from the matter by fabricating false cases against the students who helped the girls in filing the complaint against the attacker.
The students of the University conducted a protest on 1 October night against the aforesaid criminal acts in the campus. The protest saw massive participation of girl students and others. The students demanded that the University must take steps on an urgent basis to stop ragging, sexual harassment and goonda raj in the campus, and that the University must set up a Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) to address complaints of sexual harassment in the University.

But in a decision that is illogical, irrational and shocking, the PU administration has issued a memorandum, signed by the university Registrar, suspending the two girl students (Kavya M., and Vidya T. Appukuttan) and five other students (N. C. Monu, P. V. Abhijith, B. Abhijith, Rony Paulose and K. Jyotish) who stood by them. In the memorandum ((PU/AS/Aca-10/Regr./2013-14/DA/07, dated 01.11.2013), the university administration has sought to equate the aggressors and the victims by portraying the acts of sexual harassment and ragging as a case of “mutual fight and exchange of abusive words”. The other charges are even more ridiculous – “having approached the media to release the news without obtaining due permission from the University” and having organised “unauthorised protests within the university campus” are the other “crimes” that the students have supposedly engaged in. These charges and the decision based on it are totally unjust, as any democratic-minded citizen of our country would know. After all, the right to protest against injustice constitutes the very essence of democracy. The right to freedom of speech and expression, and the right to assemble peaceably and without arms are part of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

We request the Ministry of Human Resource Development to urgently intervene to ensure that the Pondicherry University promptly takes steps, (a) to revoke the suspension order of the seven students (the complainants and those who stood by them) immediately, (b) to ensure the safety and security of girl students in the campus, (c) to punish the culprits in the case in an exemplary manner, and (d) for GSCASH to be set up in the University immediately as the students have been demanding. It is disturbing that sixteen years after the Supreme Court (in its Vishaka judgement of 1997) laid down binding directives regarding the formation of committees to deal with cases of sexual harassment, and in spite of the recently passed law against sexual harassment in workplaces, GSCASH has not been formed even in most central Universities. We demand that steps must be taken to ensure punishment to those who indulge in ragging in campuses, and that GSCASH be constituted in all Universities and colleges in India in order to effectively address cases of sexual harassment in campuses and to sensitise students on gender issues.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. V. Sivadasan,
All India President,
Students’ Federation of India.
4, Ashoka Road, New Delhi – 110 001.
Mob.+91 9013260017, +91 9447320820

Just ahead of the JNUSU elections 2013-14, we see the AISA and DSF trading charges at each other for the failures of the Union led by them. The student community is faced with serious challenges ranging from the hostel crisis and inadequate MCM to the restoration of the JNUSU constitution and the fight for a more just and inclusive admission policy which includes the struggles to end discrimination in viva voce and to ensure adequate representation to backward minorities in the light of the Sachar Committee and Ranganath Mishra commission
reports. At the same time, AISA and DSF have been engaging in an ugly post-mortem of each other’s actions throughout the past one year. They have been claiming that the divided mandate delivered by the student community last year was the reason for the non-performance of the Union. This amounts to nothing but eyewash. Divided Mandate is Not an Excuse for Non-Performance The history of the JNUSU gives ample proof that divided mandates need not mean that student demands cannot be addressed effectively. In fact even when the mandate was divided between left organisations and right-wing organisations (such as in 1996-97 when SFI had the Presidents’ post while ABVP had a majority in the JNUSU
Council), the Left ensured that the fight for students rights was not in jeopardy. Whenever irreconcilable differences of opinion regarding a particular course of action in a struggle against the administration arose among the organisations leading the Union, such differences were settled through school-level general body meetings or University General Body Meetings, where students came to know clearly about the differences of opinion within the Union and a gave a clear mandate to the Union to fight against the administration without harming students unity. Significantly, it was in 2006, when the SFI-AISF had three office-bearers (Vice-President, General Secretary and Joint Secretary) and a majority in the Council while the AISA had the President’s post that the last successful MCM agitation was fought. The agitation was led by the office-bearers and councilors from SFI, and the participation of the JNUSU President from AISA was minimal. But this was not allowed to harm the struggling unity of the JNUSU, as differences of opinion were settled in the JNUSU council and the agitation was fought to a successful completion, with MCM being raised from Rs. 600 to Rs. 1500. Sectarianism within JNUSU The record of the previous union was so dismal precisely in this regard – the AISA and DSF fought each other regarding practically every issue concerning the students, to which the failed agitations of October 2012 and August 2013 stand testimony. As their recent pamphlets show, there was no united voice against the administration from the part of these  organisations on a number of important issues, ranging from viva voce weightage, BA/MA delinking, MCMs and so on. The JNUSU is an instrument of struggle for the student community
– it cannot be the battleground for the kind of petty and sectarian organisational interests as the AISA and DSF have ended up turning it into. The October 2012 agitation had brought out in the open the sectarian nature of the differences of opinion between the organisations leading the JNUSU. Instead of sincere attempts to preserve the struggling unity of the JNUSU,
what came out in the open was a fight between the leading organisations regarding competing demands and priorities, with the student community remaining largely in the dark. The office-bearers of the JNUSU quarreled among themselves in public in the midst of the agitation, thus diminishing the credibility of the Union at a crucial juncture, and thereby strengthening the hands of the administration. The recent agitation (August 2013) led by the JNUSU saw the dropping of many major demands of the October 2012 struggle which had remained unfulfilled, without informing the student community why all those demands were dropped. The Union’s admission that the JNUSU leadership was aware of the administration’s proposal to
increase MCM to Rs. 2000 from July 5th onwards only strengthened the impression among the student community that AISA and DSF had been deceitful in calling for an agitation on just one demand (about which crucial information was deliberately hidden from the student community while not calling for an agitation earlier) at the eleventh hour, before falling down to an abject surrender to the administration.  

Lessons from the Past and AISA's Record 

The abject surrender of AISA to the administration has been nothing new, and it is no wonder that not a single JNUSU office-bearer from AISA has ever been rusticated while fighting for students’ rights. The record of SFI and SFI-led Unions provide a stark contrast – the SFI unit secretary was in jail throughout the Emergency; rustications before and after the sine die of 1983 were directed against JNUSU office-bearers from SFI and the organisational leadership of SFI; in 1997-98 the move to rusticate JNUSU President Battilal Bairwa was defeated by the organised resistance by the students with a historic, 10-day hunger strike by Com. Vijoo Krishnan who was then the JNUSU Vice-President; the SFI unit secretary had been rusticated for six months following the struggle for Progressive Admission Policy in 1998-99. The deceit and surrender of the AISA-DSF-led Union is nothing but a reflection of the politics of the AISA and the DSF. It is the sectarianism of AISA which has of late been succumbing to the bourgeois parliamentarism creeping into their ranks on the one hand, and DSF’s petty bourgeois formulation of “autonomy” from the larger left and democratic forces in the country which amounts to stooping to a non-class position on the other, which has led to the weakening of the JNUSU vis-à-vis the administration (over hostels, MCM etc) as well as to its weak-kneed position vis-à-vis the State (with regard to the restoration of the JNUSU constitution, deprivation points for backward minorities etc.) The overwhelming anger of the student community over the absolute non-performance of the Union expressed in the annual GBMs and in election GBMs have exposed the efforts of the AISA-DSF to shift the agenda of this year’s elections to a devious shadow boxing between them and to the ruling class practice of attacking the organised left by spreading ill-informed rumours on various issues like the martyrdom of Com. Sudipto Gupta as well as the brutal murder of T P Chandrasekharan.
SFI appeals to the student community to participate in today’s UGBM in large numbers and to expose the antistudent record of the AISA-DSF combine.

Arjun Sengupta,
Convenor, Central Campaign Committee, SFI JNU Unit