Interviewed: Sreelekha Dhanireddy and Eshwar Gowda
Contributed By: J K Varshika
“You are not a victim for sharing your story. You are a survivor setting the world on fire with your truth. And you never know who needs your light, your warmth and your raging courage.”
– Alex Elle
80% of women and 43% of men have experienced sexual harassment.
25% of women experience workplace harassment.
One in every 10 men is stalked or followed.
Only 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison.
The numbers are staggering. And disappointing.
Although we have moved from an era where sexual harassment and abuse victims were told to hush up their trauma to an era where they are told that it is okay to have been a survivor of such abuse, it is still a once-in-a-while kind of sole phoenix of hope rising that is glorified and then forgotten. But the #MeToo campaign came like the winds of change, trailblazing a path to a world where we can see the full magnitude of the unspoken actions that take place. For those who don’t know about it yet, the Me Too Campaign was started as a hashtag on Twitter by Alyssa Milano, an American actress, as a call to all the victims of sexual abuse, harassment and assault shortly after the misconduct allegations against the Hollywood producer, Harvey Winstein, came to light. Since then in October 2017, women all over the world have come to forefront, bravely talking about their experiences and that they do not need to be ashamed of what had happened to them. “It has happened to #metoo”, they said.
As we realize the deep sorrow of the stories and the depth of the problem, we had a conversation with the Internal Complaints Committee (IC) members of IIM Bangalore to get a perspective on what it is that drives the need for such organizations to exist in the first place. After all, aren’t we all civilized humans? Talking to Sreelekha Dhanireddy (Female Point-of-Contact) and Eshwar Gowda (Male Point-of-Contact), who are the student representatives for this administrative body, they tell us what it is exactly that they do. The student POCs of IC are in place to ensure that they form a support system for any kind of complaints, feedback and issues that may arise in the student community over the period of time they are here at the institute. They virtually form a bridge between the students and the administrative commission to help better approachability in such sensitive matters. “Basically, we are the ones who see all the sides of the issue and help the students get comfortable enough to talk about their situation before it going to higher authorities. We are not here to judge but just to facilitate the process smoothly. The main point is that the IC must be approachable for anybody to be able to come up to us without shame or fear and talk about what has happened to them and have the faith that we will not break the trust they have put in us,” says Sreelekha.
So, the question then arises is why a necessity for such a committee is there to even exist in a post graduate college. Eshwar ponders on the conversation saying, “The major reason is that people may not be aware. They may not know that what they are doing is wrong and the other person is not feeling okay with what you are doing. And this is where the need for such an authority comes so that it can intervene before something even more drastic happens.” The proposition seems to be true because, over generations, most offenders don’t seem to know what they have done is not ethical in any way and is causing mental, physical and emotional harm to the person.
And that is why there is a need of such a body like IC to be present, irrespective of the chances of sexual misconduct happening in a reputed institute like IIM Bangalore. Because even one mistake can be life changing for a person. Harassment in academia is one of the biggest concerns anywhere and although it might be more prevalent in the more uneducated areas than in a liberal society, we cannot afford to not have that kind of support system in place. So even though IC might just be for the course correction, it is also the solace that students may want.
“Confidentiality is a big part of making girls come out and be able to talk to you freely. They are putting their already broken trust in your hands and you have to be very careful. And unless proper justice is provided, it can easily translate into a loss of faith,” says Sreelekha. This is the most important part of such issues. The stats say that 75% of women experience negative retaliation when they report it. Their concerns are brushed away by saying things like ‘Oh you are just making a big deal out of nothing!’ or ‘He is a man. What else do you expect from him.’ Or the worst of all ‘This was your fault.’ Girls in our country have far too long been either been shushed or shamed for what they have gone through. This needs to stop. A short skirt is not a call for sex and a pat on the arm is not the makings of a prostitute. It is as simple as – if she wants it, she will tell you. And till she tells you, you need to tether yourself.
But having said that, the problem is not one-sided. Men too face harassment, maybe not as prevalent as women, but they do nonetheless. “It is bad for boys who face harassment as well. Because one, they are not believed and two, in such a chauvinist society, men are not allowed to show any weakness. So, they are looked down upon if they try to talk about their feelings,” says Eshwar. This is exactly the reason why a male representative was also chosen this year because as much as a woman can get assaulted, a man can also get harassed. We see this is in the #HeToo campaign that is now gaining traction. Not to take away from what females experience, but the word ‘victim’ can refer to any gender. Adding to that Sreelekha says, “In fact we do see here that men tend to get more depressed than women due to the societal pressures that they face for succeeding in life and bringing home the big bucks. If you add harassment to that, it is difficult for them as well.”
So, what can we all do as normal human beings living in the same society as such victims to make it a better place? “We need to have such committees in every organization irrespective of the cases that we may get. There definitely needs to be an outlet for people to talk about such things. This is why we have a completely confidential channel that students can talk to us through and where we can help them,” say the IC members.
Talk. That embodies the most basic way that we can help anyone going through something traumatic. Just being there for these people and letting them know that someone will listen to what they have to say can be a beautiful start after the end of an ordeal. And that is what the society needs now, genuine people who will get up and say #WeToo are there for you.
Sreelekha Dhanireddy, Eshwar Gowda and J K Varshika are PGP 2017-2019 students of IIM Bangalore