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Murmurs of protest at JNU over `moral policing'

Lakshmi B. Ghosh

JNU Vice-Chancellor B. B. Bhattacharya... .Ceasefire for now

NEW DELHI: Moving away from sensitisation to moral policing, the recently revised draft of Jawaharlal Nehru University's Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) is up against severe criticism for assigning an "extra" responsibility to its members -- keeping the Administration informed of students with "sexually deviant behaviour''.

With strong protests coming in from the University community, Vice-Chancellor B.B. Bhattacharya has decided to keep the new draft in abeyance for now, and assured students that it will be reverted to the Executive Council if there are serious reservations or objections to the new clauses.

Based on the Ashok Mathur Committee report that was discussed and passed by the JNU Executive Council this past June, the draft had literally remained out of bounds for a major section of the University till August-end when the administration sent an official letter mentioning the changes.

"The report was passed before I took over as Vice-Chancellor this year. It was only when some students came to meet me and said they had objections to some clauses that I actually got involved. The Vice-Chancellor has to follow the decisions of the Executive Council. But since there are serious reservations, I have decided to send it back to the Executive Council after discussions,'' says Prof. Bhattacharya.

Adding that he has asked the students' union to forward to him the points to which they have objections, Prof. Bhattacharya says since there is a feeling that there had not been enough discussion on the draft, he wants the matter to be discussed at length before any further action.

"One has to take into account the reasons for setting up of the Ashok Mathur Committee and the reasons for the new rules. Which is why we want this to be dealt with very carefully. I would not like to go into specific rules or clauses, but would like to assure everyone that the new draft will stay in abeyance till this problem has been solved,'' he adds.

Though murmurs of dissent had begun early on, especially against provisions that made it necessary for GSCASH to keep the Vice-Chancellor informed at all stages, the addition of clauses that seemingly are unrelated to the issue of sexual harassment have left the student community angry and upset. Sunday night saw a protest demonstration against the recent changes.

One such addition is a new clause that requires GSCASH to keep the Vice-Chancellor informed of students who show sexually deviant behaviour. This, say students, has nothing to do with the working of GSCASH and may be misused.

"The new set of rules are completely against the spirit of GSCASH. By asking us to keep the Administration informed at every stage of the enquiry is to blatantly curb its autonomy. It is completely unacceptable to us and we are demanding that the Executive Council pass it again after some modifications,'' says JNU Students' Union office-bearer Shona Mitra.

While pointing out that GSCASH cannot act as an extra-constitutional authority to keep vigil on students, the students point out that by including this clause the Administration is actually attacking a community that though in a minority still has the right to follow its preferences. What is adding to the tension is the possibility of the rule being misused, as it does not quite specify what all could be regarded as an act of sexual deviance.

"They may be legally right, because the Indian Penal Code does identify a gay or lesbian relationship as illegal, but why bring it to the campus? This has nothing to do with the Visakha judgment and only signalling towards an intolerant society. It was uncalled for,'' says a senior JNU teacher.

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