Gender Circle Lecture Series: Dr. Rukmini Sen

By DVL Vidya

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On the 7th of March 2015, the Gender Circle as part of their lecture series invited noted feminist sociologist Rukmini Sen to speak about unearthing rape culture on campus. This talk was especially important in light of the recent reports of sexual assault happening around campuses, the most recent one being the Jindal University gang rape. Dr. Sen started the talk by listing out three themes that she wished to cover. The first theme being the way authorities try to silence students actively engaging in conversations relating to sexual assault and harassment and so on. The 2nd theme she wished to cover was the history of rape culture across campuses and the significance of this history. The 3rd theme was the complex notions of consent and safety that are highly debated upon in rape jurisprudence.

She proceeded to talk about the importance of modes of protest against rape culture and misogyny and quoted a line from the Glasnost article “On Pads and Other things” and said that “The best thing that the pads have done is to start a conversation” which in her opinion is the main objective of any protest. It is irrelevant whether the protest was successful or not. What matters is if it has induced people to think about issues they haven’t considered before. She explained how there has been a perceived distinction between women’s issues and political issues and illustrated this using the Jadavpur University protest and hunger strike. The police violence used on the protestors became the main issue debated upon instead of the incident of molestation itself.

Dr. Sen underlined the importance of surveys on sexual harassment in loosely defining a supposedly subjective matter of sexual assault and harassment and opening discussions on issues of gender violence. She explained by talking about the documented surveys on sexual harassment that cropped up in 1995-1996 and how they helped in understanding sexual harassment. By stressing the difference between a Sexual Harassment survey and a Gender Relations Survey, Dr. Sen explained how relations between the various genders play an important role in understanding the culture of rape that prevails in campus spaces. She proceeded to explain the importance of campus specific Anti Sexual Harassment Codes and Internal Complain Committees and how they are created keeping the issues of college in mind and can thus help to control the prevalence of misogyny on campus. She explained the importance of following due process of law in dealing with an alleged sexual offender and was of the opinion that nominations in such committees helps to create a sense of accountability towards the Anti-Sexual Harassment Code. She encouraged feminist groups to ‘feminize’ the curriculum in order to reduce the supposed rift between an academic and activist.

Dr. Sen then spoke about her last theme – Consent and Safety. She explained how there is an entire discourse on how “no means yes” in rape jurisprudence and how the issue of consent is so complex. The protests of the 16th December rape helped connect various campuses. She stressed on the need for an interaction to happen within the University and outside the University so as to be able to approach the issue of sexual assault on a larger scale.  She spoke about how social relations create grey zones between a perpetrator and a victim/survivor. She explained how the entire notion of ‘safety’, safety of women in public transports is different from freedom of women in public transport and how it is inherently paternalistic. What women want is freedom and not safety. By asserting the freedoms can we then identify the wrongs.

This lecture was followed by a series of questions ranging from the role of men in women’s issues, role of Men’s Rights Activists in promoting rape culture, the debate over a gender neutral Anti-Sexual Harassment Code, unequal hetero relationships, ‘progressive’ men who promote misogyny in the background and the burden placed on feminist groups in initiating a discourse on various gender related issues. The questions were answered using knowledge gained from personal experience. The lecture ended with a token of appreciation being handed to Dr. Sen and a round of applause from the audience.

 

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