Some weeks back when I was put in a team of college inspection committee for assessing the credentials of a college in Williamnagar and thus to gauge whether it is “fit” to be affiliated to NEHU, I happened to exchange some words with three-four members of NEHU, Shillong. While I was complaining about the lack of basic infrastructural amenities in Tura Campus and the “stepmotherly” attitude of the Centre towards us, the Shillong professor retorted, “It is because unlike us, you do not fight for your rights.” To add to it, when I resigned from my post in Dibrugarh University to join NEHU, Tura, again after a stint of less than a year in Assam, one of the administrative higher ups stated, “But why Tura? You should go to Shillong.” Right from the moment I joined NEHU, Tura, in 2012 I have been witnessing the pendulum oscillate between two predictable extremes— the discourse of “the Centre” and “the Periphery” and the diverse actualities of two workplaces that do not have anything in common, rather any point of intersection, apart from the empty signifier, the overarching tag—NEHU!
What did we gain or lose in the tussle between “Us” and “Them”? Let me give you the “insider’s” point of view on how the recent sexual harassment case is torn between two coteries and two campuses, and finally how the game of throwing the ball at the other’s coat continues unabated. When we were first informed about the lewd text messages sent to some research scholars of the Dept. of RDAP in NEHU, Tura, by the alleged HoD, a handful of female colleagues approached the administration with a few demands—
1. We need an Internal Complaints Committee in Tura that should look into the matter of our own campus. We refused to nominate and send two women representatives to the Women’s Cell, Shillong, as instructed, on the ground that it would be a partial representation—only we know the turn of events here— the ongoing struggles and a situation of unrest; the allegations are poured in here; the protest, sit-in-demonstrations and dharnas take place here- only we know the accuser and the accused within a specific contextual framework. How to accept a 98 (Shillong) -2 (Tura)% constitution of the Women’s Cell? Why to make the so-called victims traverse miles to provide their evidence and narrate the minutest details there? Why can’t we have an ICC in our Tura Campus as it is a separate workplace? Even a fool cannot deny that each and every workplace has its own mode of working—only an ICC in Tura will be able to combat the growing sense of distrust and insecurities among the woman fraternity. For immediate action, intervention, and enquiry in our Tura campus we cannot lean on the distant Women’s Cell in Shillong—it would lead to further delays and deferrals.
2. We have to stick to Vishaka Guidelines and The Sexual Harassment Act, 2013, come what may. The Women’s Cell, Shillong, gave us the freedom to handle the case and instructed us to proceed ahead with the constitution of our own Cell here. For that we had to refer to OD-9 of NEHU and finally we were happy. Also, we knew that NEHU, Shillong, is eventually going to dissolve the Women’s Cell in the future and form an ICC soon. We braced up to follow their footsteps because it was better to have “something” than to have “nothing”. Unfortunately, one fine day we were told by an administrator that the Women’s Cell should be constituted on certain lines (for us, it was not legal and formal as NEHU’s letter of instruction tempered with the structure of composition of a WC). We knew, we could not defy the norms laid down by Gazette of India. We demanded a lawfully constituted WC, not a fragmentary namesake.
(You can read the useless OD-9 ordinance of NEHU constituting Women’s Cell below – RAIOT COLLECTIVE)
3. Women’s Cell is an obsolete body and shall be dismantled soon. The UGC Regulation of 2015—Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions— is statutory in nature and binding on universities and colleges. Given the conditions charted out by the Gazette of India (MHRD, New Delhi, 2nd May, 2016), an ICC should comprise of —a presiding officer, two faculty members, two non-teaching employees, three students, and one member from an NGO or a women-oriented organization.
4. More skeletons will start tumbling out from the closet from now on and thus ICC is the need of the hour. Denying the establishment of an ICC in our Tura campus (or for that matter Shillong campus) would lead to dire consequences, one being UGC derecognizing our University, but our warnings fell on deaf ears.
As the youngest member of my department, I am frustrated. I am frustrated for many reasons, official and non-official alike, one being this – I feel I am the biggest hypocrite in the world- I teach my students the significance of women’s rights, activism and women’s jurisdiction but in reality, I don’t even have that iota of power to stretch out my hands to them, hug them, and tell them that-We will be taking some concrete steps! It kills to see them hovering all over the Pro Vice Chancellors’s office, parched and thirsty, shouting slogans, with placards and banners in their hands, hungry, directionless, hopeless, groping in the dark. For me, I have an empty room, a few pieces of dusty chalks and a blackboard to teach feminism now – my students are away doing what the administration should have done first place. This embodies not only my failure (as a teacher), but also the failure of a University at large—more shamelessly, it marks the sheer non-execution/inaction of the ones occupying the lowest rung to the highest! On top of it, also blame it on the non-coordination and the lopsided equation between the “Centre” and “Periphery!” After all who pays attention to an inconsequential voice at the fringes, right?