Panel Discussion on ‘Sexual Violence in Conflict Areas’

By Debayudh, University Express, Aug 16, 2014

The Gender Studies Group, University of Delhi, organized a panel discussion on ‘Sexual Violence in Conflict Areas’ on 14th August 2014, at the Faculty of Social Sciences, North Campus.

The speakers included Babloo Loitongbam, the Director of Human Rights Alert, and Uma Chakravarti, a feminist historian who taught in Miranda House College. The speakers addressed a room packed with an attentive audience. The enthusiasm on their part was worth noticing.

(L-R) Babloo Loitongbam, Uma Chakravarti Picture Courtesy: Debayudh Chatterjee

The Gender Studies Group (GSG), Delhi University is an independent, non-funded, University-wide student group involved in regularly reading, writing, and thinking about gender. However, organizing this panel discussion was no cake-walk. The Head of Department of English, Delhi University denied permission to grant a room and a projector to the Gender Studies Group by claiming that the program was dealing with a ‘politically volatile issue’. Shreya Gupta, a student of the Department and also a volunteer, lashed out on Facebook,

The Gender Studies Group’s request to provide a room for a panel discussion on sexual violence in conflict areas, focusing especially on widows of men who are killed in extra-judicial killings in Manipur, has been denied by HOD, Department of English, University of Delhi, because it is a “volatile political issue”.

Brinda Bose, an associate professor of the Department of English, who will soon leave for JNU, said in response to Shreya Gupta’s post,

“Some MA students who organised a Gender conference a few years ago were almost barred from doing a play-reading from the Vagina Monologues because most of my colleagues were squeamish. What is appalling is the attitude to anything ‘political’. If a Literature Department eschews the political, what on earth do we read literature for?”

Ultimately, the Department of Political Science offered a room and amenities, and things worked out.

When asked about the necessity to hold such an event, Aapurv Jain, an undergraduate student of Economics in Kirori Mal College, opined,

“The mainstream media is still silent about Kashmir and the North-East. At least, they’re not as vocal as they should be. Although the AFSPA has currently gained some currency, the people are yet to be aware of what’s going around them. We aim in bringing about a sense of awareness among common students.”

Babloo Loitongbam, who came from Manipur to study in Hans Raj College years ago, talked about how in conflict areas, the basic rights of a citizen to live freely were abused by the army and other state forces. Along with the much-talked about case of Manorama, he cited several events to vindicate how the AFSPA [Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958] has proven itself to be a draconian excuse of misrule in a so-called ‘democratic country’.

Uma Chakravarti talked about issues pertaining to gender and ethnicity. She expressed her discontent with the responses fetched from the mainstream intelligentsia. Uma ended her discussion with an ultimate sigh, “There’s no civil society in India.”

A brief documentary titled ‘Claiming Justice’ was screened. It focused on how several families in conflict zones are unnecessarily oppressed in utmost brutality by state forces.

The panelists concluded their speeches by appealing to the audience to become more active inside and outside the classroom for the purpose of securing gender justice. Will we see more faces turning up for the rallies in future?

A subtler, and perhaps, more vital question remains at hand- Who, is the Department of English, University of Delhi, trying to please by shunning its own students who want to bring about a change to this society otherwise ridden with patriarchy, caste, and inequality?

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