Wear uniform, stay within designated places to avoid trouble: Punjab Govt College tells victim of harassment, causes uproar

Soon after the incident, scared and frightened for her safety, the victim called her brother to the college who she said ended up meeting with an accident and is currently hospitalised
Pic: Bidushi Das, Edexlive
Pic: Bidushi Das, Edexlive

The administration of the Government College Gurdaspur in Punjab is in the eye of a storm. Why? Because they told a female student who had been stalked and harassed, that the untoward incident had happened as she had worn the wrong clothes and was at a place she was "not supposed to be in."

The female student who was harassed said that she had been filling a membership form to join the Punjab Students' Union. Though there is a uniform dress code for women, she was dressed casually and was in the men's compound. This was on October 18. This is when, she claims, a man — who the victim said was not from the college — followed her around for a while. When she confronted him, he asked her why she had not been coming to college.

Things went downhill from there. "A few boys, who did not look like students of my college, approached me while I was signing the form," she said. The gang told her that their friend was attracted to her. She resisted, "They told me not to back-answer as they have direct access to the VIPs in town. They then flicked the hot tea from my hand which fell on someone else." Members of the PSU intervened and the men left soon enough.

They called in the authorities and things got a little bit worse. The victim, who is an 18-year-old BA first-year student, spoke to Edexlive on condition of anonymity. She said, "College authorities blamed everything on me. They asked why I was wearing jeans and not the uniform. They said my clothes were bad and said I should sit in the designated places meant for girls and not in the area I was in. They said it is because I didn't follow the rules that the incident happened." 

We reached out to the Vice Principal of the college, Gurinder Singh Kalsi and he confirmed the advice that they had given the girl, but added that it they were doing it out of concern for students. Incidentally, the set uniform at the college is only meant for girls. "The uniform is meant to recognise who our students are. But it is only meant for girls," Kalsi said. The campus is heavily gender-segregated. Kalsi explained, "The college has a designated place for girls. We have segregated spaces and kept the reading room common precisely for this reason. When girls sit in spaces meant for boys, then the probability that such incidents will occur increases." 

In a bid to ensure that stray occurences of this kind don't happen too often, he stated that the authorities have time and again told the girls not to sit in the spaces meant for boys to avoid problems and instead sit in their compounds. "We have asked them to come to us if there is any problem while they are sitting in spaces meant for them. We are here for children and we tell them how to behave according to what we think is right." 

Vice Principal Kalsi said that the college had decided to follow up with the police. "When we approached the police to register our complaint, they asked us to get the permission of the girl's family as it was a matter concerning 'a girl'," he explained. He said that the college contacted the family and asked them to visit the college but nobody from the family showed up.

Why? Because of another twist of fate. Soon after the incident, scared and frightened for her safety, the victim called her brother to the college who, she said, ended up meeting with an accident. "He is now hospitalised. If the incident wouldn't have happened, he wouldn't have been in the hospital," she said.

Punjab Students' Union Vice President Amar Kranti said that there will be a protest held against the college's response on October 29. He said, "There is an atmosphere of victim blaming in the college." When asked why such a delay in protest, he said that because there have been off-days owing to which not a lot of students have been on campus. "We will be marching from the college to the office of the Senior Superintendent of Police in large crowds because the police here don't listen otherwise." The girl who had been harassed said, "I am glad someone is taking this issue forward because as of now I am not in the state of mind to do so because of my brother's accident." 

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