PUCL Bulletin, December 2002
Assault on right to
As a first observation,
it is important to state that each of these territories at every level
is gendered and structured by power, hierarchy and hegemony; moving inwards
in a sense from the dynamic of society to the smaller spaces that constitute
it - the family, the campus, the hostel, the classroom, each of these
spaces constructed as "internal" spaces, analogous to the family.
An understanding of this shifting definition of "the private"
and the use of the familial analogy is important if we are to understand
the troubling reality of violence on campuses and our inability to deal
As a result of persistent campaigning by the women's movement over two decades, the issue of sexual harassment and heterosexual violence has entered the mainstream discourse in different ways. Yet, masculinity and femininity continue to be constructed in strictly regimented ways with very little space for women students particularly to raise questions of discrimination, harassment or derogatory/obscene representation. This is and must remain a dialogue between male students, and the resolution must also happen between them with women on both sides being passive spectators. I will return to this point a little later.
it would follow that there has not been any significant decrease in violence
and sexual harassment on campuses; in fact, the violence has become increasingly
strident, an instance being cited of a campus on the subcontinent where
the hundredth rape on the campus was celebrated! The positive side of
this is that there is protest and resistance and persistent campaigning
by women's groups and small groups of men and women - teachers and students
- on campuses, in Delhi and Rajasthan for example.
To come now to the troubling question of masculinity. This dialogue between male students, whether about women, or about the right of senior students to services and obeisance from juniors, or about a general policing, is by definition violent and involves extreme physical abuse. And masculinity is constructed around the ability to bear pain, the ability to be an active spectator, the capacity for silence, a firm belief in the patriarchies of age and gender and an utter contempt for any recourse to legitimate redress.
The heroes are those
that bear all these characteristics. In other words, there is a complete
normalisation of violence in institutions of education, and while we are
able to address some, such as heterosexual violence, there are others,
same sex violence for instance, especially battery, that remain invisible,
unspoken about and give cause for serious concern. As a law student I
once met said to me, "Yeh to boys hostel mein hotaa hi hai",
and asserted that these were not matters that the authorities ought to
mess around with because they would get resolved within the hostel. And
I am sure students of other disciplines would not speak differently.
But that is not enough. The feminist slogan, "the personal is political" opened up the family for public scrutiny in the face of increasing violence against women within marriage three decades ago. Despite stiff resistance to any "interference in family matters", domestic violence has systematically been forced into public view - the courtroom, legislative bodies and curricula in family law. The fact that there cannot be a derogation of rights - to life, to dignity and bodily integrity, to the freedom of expression, to the freedom of association - even within "private spaces" is one that must be appreciated through the lens of "the personal is the political" slogan. When even the family is no longer a private space, how can a campus or worse still a hostel be one? Legal education cannot be confined to the classroom, but must encompass the entire space that teachers and students inhabit, in order for it to make sense.
Women students in
elite institutions have resisted quotas for women in the unions, and non-dalits
students (men and women), have generally opposed quotas for Dalits as
well. I have not yet heard of an instance where Dalit students, on being
offered a quota in unions have refused it. The argument of the women students
in at least one instance that has come to my notice was that they were
a sizeable number - a little over half in that institution - and that
they would get into the union "on their own steam". And yet
when the elections took place, 85 per cent of the seats went to the men.
This experience outside the classroom ties in with the teaching of the
equality provisions in constitutional law and the questions raised in
equality jurisprudence: the distinction between formal equality and substantive
equality, the wisdom and indispensability of affirmative action, and the
fact that the right to equality binds all historically discriminated against
groups. Reservation was not only for "Scheduled Castes and Scheduled
Tribes" but was necessary for women too.
Violence is both the
subject of law and its context. And violence is always embedded in a social
context ridden with unequal power and privilege. Witness the constant
threat of sexual violence that women are confronted with and the inoperability
of the law when it comes to sexual offences.