Preaching Perversion: Sexism in Indian Educational Institutions
She was 12 years old. Her eyes shone bright and her passion knew no bounds. She was carefree, vivacious, and passionate. She let her hair down, unshackled, and let the wind brace her.
Her soul was unshackled until it wasn’t.
She remembers it like it was yesterday. Unseen scars and unhealed wounds grapple her. She looks in the mirror and curses the reflection. She recounts the day, the incident, everything.
She remembers the day.
She remembers how the sun glared through the running field.
She remembers how she rushed through the corridor and apologized to the teacher as she entered the class.
She remembers that she couldn’t wrap her head around math.
She remembers asking for help from a friend⏤at least that is what she presumed them to be.
She remembers the last bench.
She remembers their ghastly fingers slid under her skirt, her frozen state. She remembers their smug smile, their remorseless eyes.
She turned to the teacher she looked up to the most. Her heart sank deeper with the teacher’s words. Those words became engraved in her mind and heart:
“I knew I should have warned you about your skirt, you attract undue attention.”
“Action against them is undue... any suspension or detention will be reflected in their academic record. They are a bright student⏤we can't spoil their future.”
“Maybe you led them on on...”
“You were always looking for drama”.
She stopped looking up, she stopped smiling, she stopped living. She didn’t want to ever be blamed again.
She was yet another victim of a system which chooses to point its finger at victims rather than take timely action against perpetrators. She was reduced to a number, a statistic. Her life was reduced to an incident that went unaccounted for.
Hers resembles the story of so many. Her school conformed to hegemonic beliefs, like all the others.
Educational institutions of India which harbour a victim-blaming culture have been a sad reality, an accepted truth. Schools, as one of the first glimpses students get of the outside world, form us as beings, shape us as individuals. Schools bear the burden of educating us, of making the world a better place through this. Unfortunately, more often than not, schools have indulged and even propagated rape culture: an environment where sexual violence is normalized and condoned.
Schools indulge in victim-blaming and slut-shaming, avoiding proactive measures like sex education.
Indian schools (even coeducational ones) practice a method of segregation, differentiating between sexes. They police students to ensure minimal interaction between opposite sexes by designating separate benches.
The sexualization of 12-year-olds is a societal problem, a problem in the schools where we study. The onus of schools is to educate young individuals, not to police a certain sect of students.
But here’s the thing: the sexism doesn’t affect just students. Indian schools mandate their teachers and employees to strictly dress "decently". They go on to define decent dressing as longline tops which are typically longer than knee length, Sarees, loose fitted pants, and tied hair. Teaching as a profession is one of the most revered in India. So when “respectable” teachers only dress in a certain way, it sends a (not so) subtle message that those who don’t, fall outside the "respectable" strata of people.
But this isn't a hopeless situation. Change begins with us. We as individuals need to hold these institutions accountable. We need to force action. We need to ask difficult questions. We need to vocally stand by victims and survivors of violence. We need to stand united against patriarchy and rape culture.
Whether you're a victim of sexual violence or you know someone who is, here are some steps you can undertake and some things to keep in mind:
Healing a society begins with individual healing. Remember that you are not at fault, so don’t be afraid to speak up about your experiences with those you trust and those who need to mobilize. Take advantage of any resources you're comfortable with, whether that be informal or formal.
If your institution does not yet have a Sexual Harassment body or authority, know that the University Grants Commission (prevention, prohibition, and redressal of sexual harassment of women employees and students in higher education institutions) 2016 regulations mandate the establishment of Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs) to tackle complaints of sexual harassment.
In whatever capacity you're able, push for the perpetrator to be held accountable.
Be aware of your legal rights: Indian law recognizes criminalizes sexual harassment and our constitution tackles these rights in the following sections:
Sections 292, 293 and 294 deal with obscenity
Section 354 deals with the assault or criminal force on a woman with the intent of insulting his modesty
Section 509 deals with words, gestures or acts intended to insult the modesty of a woman
Criminal Law Act (edit), 2013, makes sexual stalking, harassment and other sexual offences a crime under the Indian Penal Code.