Published: 22nd August 2017
These 20-year-olds from Jindal University are telling school children about something we've 'protected them from' for decades: Sexual Harassment
From being pinched on buses to being stared at — these two girls are going to schools across India, using their own cash and bootstrapping it as they go along — to talk about how it's all harassment
You’re almost at the end of the tunnel. Your college life is almost over and you might be itching to do something to make a social impact. What would that be? For Shivakshi Bhattacharya and Swaranjali Agrawal of O P Jindal Global University, it was the itch to address something that almost everyone has gone through in some way or the other — sexual harassment.
“The problem is that we aren’t even clear about what can be considered as sexual harassment,” Shivakshi starts off, adding, “Is commenting on a girl’s breasts not harassment? And isn’t it harassment when someone tries to touch me off guard in a bus or an auto?”
Gauging danger: The girls want students to recognise what exactly qualifies as sexual harassment
Such are the hard-hitting questions that these two 20-year-olds are now asking kids across the country. With the hope of reaching out to 6,500 students, they have launched the Sexual Harassment Prevention Programme in schools in Haryana and Madhya Pradesh with only a backpack, some money and tons of enthusiasm to help them sail through.
“As we know, a student who experiences sexual harassment suffers educationally. Our programme encourages a safe learning environment where children can perform to their fullest potential. It is very important for students be able to detect sexual abuse and its different forms,” Shivakshi says. But how do you tell that to a ﬁrst grader? “We have divided the programme into three age groups — 5-10, 11-15 and 16-18. Each prevention programme has a different approach according to their age group,” explains Shivakshi.
Safety net: The girls encourage a safe learning environment where children can perform to their fullest potential
“For kids, we use popular cartoons like Doraemon and Chhota Bheem on our slideshows so they can relate to it better,” says Swaranjali.
Now, we all remember our ‘foreverbroke’ college days. So how do these girls manage, ﬁnancially? “We use our pocket money. We have stopped eating out and manage with the canteen food. But that’s a very small sacriﬁce for the sake of this project,” says Shivakshi.
Aside from the obvious challenges of attendance, and juggling academics and funds, Shivakshi and Swaranjali face a lot of moral policing too. “We have a good time convincing judgemental school heads who do not think that two girls should be talking about this,” says Shivakshi, with a sly smile.
Swaranjali agrees while adding that it was also difﬁcult to explain why boys too need to attend the programme. “Most of the school authorities assume that the lecture is only for girls, which is not true — one, because boys need to know that ‘casual teasing’ might actually be harassment, and two, who says that boys aren’t harassed?
Number bumper: The girls have so far spoken to 65,000 students across the country
We need to kill this myth,” she says. It may be a small start but the numbers they have in mind are big. Their efforts are reﬂ ected in the feedback when after the session, the children come forward and talk to them. “It is like they ﬁnally have someone to talk to and we are happy to help,” Swaranjali concludes.
Here's what they're teaching kids:
- How to identify harassing behaviour
- A plan of action if being harassed
- How to help someone who is being harassed
- How to identify safe and unsafe touch
- School policy against sexual harassment
- How to recognise how abusers violate physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual boundaries
- How to communicate consent and the common difﬁ culties with saying ‘no’ to others
- Identify the dangers of assuming consent
- Recognising that sexual violence is never the victim’s fault
- Legal implications and legal deﬁ nitions of sexual violence
How can you help?
Contribute to their online fundraiser: http://bit.ly/2i9Ls3i