On the INSAAF Posters, Communication and the Absence of Community

Outside the Girls Hostel

Outside the Boys Hostel

The other day I stepped out of class and sauntered over to the Amul corner shop. I found a boy in animated conversation with some friends/ faculty. He was in the middle of his narrative, he looked distressed, and I didn’t want to interrupt him. From the bits i gathered, he had found his (easily distinguishable) bag outside the library — where he had left it — with the word “faggot” scrawled across it. Extremely horrified at the many implications of what had transpired, I waited for a student reaction. This was, after all, a premier law school. Was an act of homophobic bullying being responded to with stony silence?! Silence screamed that the miscreant was walking away with impunity. Wasn’t that reflective of some really horrible things about the kind of community, or the lack of one, here? It is undoubtedly important for law schools to have space for the expression of divergent views, but the freedom to espouse ones opinion, even that of being against certain kinds of sexualities, does not cover an active act of injury done upon another person. The latter is abuse, even if it has occurred without a fully formed malicious intent, even if was just a thoughtless act of vandalism, even if it wasn’t meant to cause a “personal” injury, and it deserves to be condemned, if not investigated.

Two days after I wrung my hands in frustration (because I’m a mere LLM student, with all the disempowering voicelessness that comes with the marginalized place I occupy), I found the Cinema Club in association with the Anti-Sexual Harassment Committee had decided to talk about the incident by a special screening of Beautiful Thing. It wasn’t the reaction I had hoped for, but it was a start.

Then a poster by the  Anti-Sexual Harassment Committee turned up. The first one encouraged the use of thesauruses as an alternative to the usage of the word ‘gay’. A few days later, several more posters popped up. It took me a while to figure out that they weren’t merely NLU Delhi Confessions but an INSAAF initiative. These posters are about addressing the problems that bother NLUD students. The use of the students’ names gives us to understand that these views aren’t made up, they are personally held opinions or perceptions or experiences, and they are not meant to be representative of the experiences of all NLUD students (obviously, I only mean the LLB students here). One of these posters wittily defines “faggot”, clarifying why the writer doesn’t identify with a bundle of sticks. The other posters deal with someone sick of caring about her skin tone — if you think that’s a superficial concern, you’ve not lived in middle-class India, and you’ve been switching the channel during ad breaks while IPL is on. The fairness cream industry has co-opted the class/caste discrimination against dark skin and used it to entrench further the idea that success at job interviews is a function of skin tone. You’d think people aren’t so gullible. You’d be surprised.

Then there’s the pink laptop equals not bad GPA poster. During a discussion about this with another friend, my first reaction was that this (pink = feminine = unintelligent) was a very Western correlation, and we don’t judge pretty women as being academically unsmart in India, surely! Weren’t all the news reports after Xth & XIIth Board results are announced all about how girls are sincere students and girls top all the way and boys are lazy and boys don’t care about studies and boys don’t do well at rote-learning and boys have original thoughts and boys are better at maths and how the creative outlet for boys dies of IIT fever and how one girl joined the EEE department at IIT KGP and how girls generally suck at maths, etc.? Sorry, I got carried away by the stream of gender stereotypes that are entrenched by the media year after year after year. So, you know, pink laptops are a style preference, and the possession of a sense of style does not disqualify a girl (or a boy) from an entry into the intelligentsia. I think the broader point that needs to be addressed is that the formality of clothing or accessories is irrelevant to the seriousness or gravity of the ideas of the wearer. In other words, what colour your laptop is, or what you wear to class does not add or subtract from the substance of the ideas that are exchanged during a classroom discussion.

The fact of the matter is, the INSAAF posters have done something that doesn’t happen enough on this campus: they have created a space for people to communicate, and communicate in a way that creates a sense of community, a sense of responsibility towards one another. Prof. Ranbir Singh opened an International Humanitarian Law conference held recently on campus with the words “everyone is responsible to everyone for everything”. It is this spirit which must pervade this university if it seeks to become ‘The Harvard of the East’.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I first attributed the lack of a dialogue or any conversation between the students about the incident to general apathy, and wondered what caused it. Further reflection has brought me to the conclusion that the lack of space or channels to express your condemnation is perhaps the most predominant cause of this apparent apathy. So I want you to ask yourselves the following questions: Who represents you? Who takes on the task of putting forward your views about anything, regardless of how right or wrong you are about those views, or how informed your views are? Do you condemn the act of vandalism which caused so much undeserved anguish to a friend, or a collegemate, if not a friend? If yes, what have you done to make your condemnation be felt by the anonymous transgressor? If no, is it because you don’t care enough, or because you don’t care enough to have an opinion?

One thought on “On the INSAAF Posters, Communication and the Absence of Community

  1. Hear hear. Even if i have problems with the specific message that some of them contain, the posters are doing something crucial in terms of actually starting that conversation/dialogue, which isn’t something that has happened here before. That’s where the real value of these posters lies, as opposed to the specific messages that they carry.
    I especially liked the comparison to the conference. Now all insaaf needs is a Ranbir Singh-like overlord figure to… Oh wait.


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