More often than not it was a warning wrapped around a joke – “Beta dhyaan se, nahin to GSCASH laga degi (Careful my boy, or she'll slap you with GSCASH)”. Over cups of sugary tea and pakodas, well-meaning boys patted the shoulders of their brothers-from-another-mother as they swooned over women on campus.
Their objects of attention may or may not have come to know about these intentions or feelings. They may or may not have been entertained. But one thing was for sure, an invisible, but omnipresent set of eyes seemed to be watching over it all.
Jawaharlal Nehru University's Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) was Dr TJ Ekcleburg's eyes.
True, most men on campus did not need to be warned (we have covered the #notallmen debate here, you are welcome). But there were the ones that did and that is where GSCASH acted as a perfect deterrent.
Also, it must be pointed out that GSCASH was equally supportive of men who made complaints against women. The agenda was to prevent and punish sexual harassment – it was not feminist and it was never radical.
Even before a potential sexual offender could think of doing anything, the fear of serious/severe punishment (suspension, expulsion, getting fired if you are faculty/staff, hostels/campus made out-of-bound, hostel transfers etc) had most people living by the logic – better safe than sorry.
Ingrained in the mind-system
Essentially, what GSCASH did was offer a security blanket to whoever felt threatened – irrespective of gender. Yes, it worked more in the favour of women than men, but that can perhaps be explained by the fact that skewed societal and gender rules has had the women getting the shoddier end of the deal always.
As students on campus, we felt safe enough to venture out whenever we wanted, wearing whatever we chose. Students could socialise and fraternise with others without being attacked verbally or physically, without being trolled on social media or elsewhere.
Delhi did not feel safe, it still does not feel safe. But JNU did. And as a woman anywhere in India, you will know that the feeling is priceless.
Much poison has been spewed about the fact that this 'free atmosphere' allowed women to drink, smoke and wallow in recreational drugs. And thanks to this, one BJP MLA counted “50,000 pieces of bones, 3,000 used condoms, 500 used abortion injections, 10,000 cigarette 'pieces', among other things, are found at JNU, where girls and boys dance naked in cultural programmes.”
So little time, so much counting.
In a varsity that is mostly composed of students pursuing post-graduation courses, JNU's 'freedom' was for every one. Not just the men. Just as both men and women got pulled up for drinking on the hostel terrace and paid the fines, we heard of GSCASH cases where both men and women were named as accused.
The freedom and safety that GSCASH offered on campus was as much a part of JNU's ethos as are the PSR Rocks, the red-hued political thought and the late-night paranthas at 24/7 Dhaba. It made JNU what it is – progressive in leaps and bounds over many, many other varsity campuses.
Students came to JNU to study from big metropolitan cities and from tiny little villages – for those equipped with an open mind, JNU was comfort space; for others, it became the place where they learned to live and let live in decent harmony (a few random incidents not withstanding).
Very often, this 'freedom' was one of the main factors that came up when Delhi University students argued with JNU students about which campus was better. True, we did not have KNags or tandoori momos or the chance to hop over to Majnu ka Tila. No glamour, no glitz. But we had plenty more and we were glad.
In case of emergency, put on that safety jacket
GSCASH was safety for most and fear for some. At the peril of sounding trite, why would you fear a committee if you had done nothing for them to get a complaint against you? And again, would you ever have something positive to say about a committee that pulled you up and fired/suspended you?
People were afraid of GSCASH because it was a panel that actually did its job. It was a panel that made sure that the complainant did not feel threatened as the case was being investigated, hostels and/or the campus was often made out of bounds for the accused. And most importantly, it was a panel that was not controlled by the administration.
And that is perhaps why the saffron quarters felt the urgent need to dig up University Grants Commission (UGC) regulations and get in the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), with all new members, instead of just changing the name of an already existing panel that dealt with sexual harassment on campus.
With the JNU administration now trying to dilute the GSCASH by replacing it with an ICC – the university is at the risk of losing a lot more than an independent panel that safe-guarded an intrinsic feeling.
The ICC will only elect its student representatives. The teachers on board are picked by the administration as is the NGO and its representative. It does not need to be spelled out how the odds will roll with this one.
The university has been under attack since February 2016. With an 'offence is the best defence' logic, the current political dispensation has been trying to pull apart the last communist bastion, brick by brick. The vice-chancellor has been watching the show, throwing in notices every now and then to facilitate the process.
From seat cuts, to students being suspended. From drastic procedural changes in admission processes to wanting an Army tank on campus. The agenda seems to be to dismantle every thought, every idea that JNU stands for. And the dilution of GSCASH is the latest on this Let's-make-JNU-great-again-BJP/RSS-style list.
Taking GSCASH away from the students, a panel where both teacher and student representatives were elected, seems to be a prime blow to take away a feeling, a sense of belonging and freedom that is uniquely and exquisitely JNU.
Because it is true, if you can destroy a feeling – all that remains is a shell that does not take long to weather.
Edited by Joyjeet Das