Days after complaints of mass molestation and abuse inside a fest at Delhi's University's all-girls Gargi College went viral on social media, students on Monday protested against the administration and demanded a full and impartial inquiry into the incident. Students have also called for the resignation of the college Principal as well as of the head of the Student Union for the delay in action against the perpetrators.
On February 6, students of Gargi College were pumped to enjoy the music performance of popular musician Zubin Nautiyal. It was the last day of the three-day annual festival, Reverie 2020, and students from across colleges started queuing up from the afternoon to enjoy the show. However, what started out as an avenue for students to have fun and let their hair down within the safety of the college premises soon turned into a nightmare after the fest was hijacked by hordes of unidentified men who swarmed the venue and allegedly verbally as well as physically molested women students.
According to reports and eye-witness accounts, several middle-aged men, who were not students, entered the venue at around 6.30 pm. Students claim that there was no checking of passes or ID cards at all, even of male students who are required to have a pass to enter the girls' college. The crowd started to build by 4 pm. By 6.30 pm, the main gate was opened and all the men standing among the gathered crowd outside made their way into the venue unchecked. Some students claim that many of the men were part of a pro-CAA rally that was taking place who entered the college by scaling gates. Some men were even heard reportedly screaming 'Jai Shree Ram' at the venue.
"When I reached the site at 4 pm, I saw many men and women were entering the venue by juts waving metro cards or Aadhar cards at the entry. This is a girls college, men entering needed a pass. But the checking was extremely negligent," Aditi Mahgavidyalaya student Harpriya Bhardwaj tells News18. She had been visiting the fest and was shocked to find organisers of the fest announcing warnings to "men" to stop disturbing and bothering women. "The performance started with that," she informs.
As reports, eye-witness accounts and confessions pages carrying posts by Gargi and other students who attended the fest suggest, the "warning" failed to serve any purpose as multiple women reported being verbally molested or groped. Men even masturbated in front of women. As per Malahat, a Gargi alumna who attended the fest men could constantly be seen catcalling women and groping them. "Few of them even climbed on the table of an empty stall and started shouting "jo larki mujhse pategi usey 50k ki makeup kit dunga, tu pat ja ya tu pat ja (I will buy a makeup kit worth Rs 50,000 to any girl who agrees to go out with me)", she says.
While CRPF and Delhi Police personnel were deployed on campus, several students allege that they were useless in curbing the mayhem and chaos, nor did college authorities or union bodies try to intervene much. Several untoward incidents took place near the main-stage but attendees claim that none took any note as everyone was busy "enjoying the fest".
"I was groped from behind, as was my friend. Someone touched our butts and squeezed but by the time we could turn around and find them, they were lost in the crowd. There was really no space to even breathe or turn around as there was nearly thrice the expected crowd," a first-year B Com student from Shivaji Collge who spoke to News18 on the condition of anonymity, recalls. "It was traumatic. When my friend and I realized what had happened, we fled. Later we found out that such incidents had happened to many women."
On Monday as outrage grew on social media, a General Student Body meeting was called along with the college's Principal as well as members from the staff association in which students drew up a set of demands for the college administration.
"We demand a fact-finding committee to instantly be instituted to investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to book," member of Gargi's student union which itself has come under fire from students for inaction, tells News18. "We have also demanded a written apology from the Principal as well as those responsible for handling the security on the day of the event".
The committee which will be formed will consist of one student and one teacher of the 17 departments within the college. While students will vote and choose the student representative, the latter will be chosen by teachers of the particular department, of the college will be members. The function of this committee will be to create a better channel of communication between administration, union, and various departments. The committee has to come into being by February 15. If the committee fails to provide satisfactory findings within two months from the date of its institution, the student body has demanded the resignation of the Principal.
During the day's protests when the Principal addressed students at Gargi college, many demanded to know the details of the budget allocated for the security of the fest. "We want written documentation of financial details and budget allotted for Reverie 2019 and 2010 security. And we also demand this process to be followed each year where administration hands us these details before the event to avoid such negligence," the Arts Faculty Procter said.
Students also expressed anger against the college's lax response to the incident and the moral-policing tone that Gargi authorities took after students complained of harassment at the fest. "When we went to authorities, they completely dismissed our complaints and told us to not attend the fest if we felt unsafe," a student said on condition of anonymity. Several media websites reported on how students were told not to participate in events such as college fests if they felt unsafe.
"After the grueling course work that each of us has to ace, we girls wait the whole year for the very special star night. But alas this year it turned out to be a great disappointment as the administration was zero concerned about our safety," the second-year student of Hindi tells News18.
Additional demands made by the student body include a written apology and retraction for all previous statements made by college administration under the office of the Principal following complaints of harassment at Reverie 2020 for the way the administration initially responded to the incident with alleged sexist, homophobic and moral policing comments.
"The admin has to withdraw all older statements made regarding Reverie 2020 and the security inside the college and replace it with fresh, updated ones that don't attempt to moral police or victim shame the student," Mittiksha, a first-year Zoology student from Gargi, tells News18.
Students have decided to boycott classes until all the demands are met and the union member who spoke to News18 confirms that the Principal, as well as college authorities, are taking swift and diligent action in the matter. The demands also include a written copy of the FIR filed against the incident.
Nevertheless, several students at Monday's protest demanded the immediate resignation of the Principal as well as the head of the student union who some students claimed was allegedly on leave today. The union has also been accused by several students on Instagram pages such as 'Speakupgargi' to have failed to protect the women attendees at Reverie. News18 tried to reach her but the union's President Sundaram Thakur remained unavailable for comment. As did the principal Dr. Promila Kumar.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Commission of Women took suo moto cognizance of the complaints made by some of the students on social media. On Monday, DCW head Swati Maliwal reached Gargi premises to speak to students.