If I had to look into the system and make an in-depth analysis on what is wrong with it, I could come up with a comprehensive list. However, if I had to pinpoint all of that to just one point, that would be difficult. I have spent the better part of last year thinking about what the one thing that is wrong with the system; is it the sexism or the misogyny? Is it the religious fanaticism or the Punjabi supremacist beliefs? In the end, I’ve come down to just one conclusion; power. It is those who are the in higher hierarchal positions of the structure, who have the power to make decisions, who are the real culprits.
Now the question is, who has this power when it comes to campuses? Is it the men of the campus, the teachers or just the administration as a whole? I think we clearly know the answer to this nuanced question. The structure of power works in a way that it supports the powerful in every other structure. Hence, the men will be supported by the teachers who will be backed up by the administration. So if you’re harassed, the cycle of power will churn out your complaints like an over-flowing garbage can.
This gives birth to a solution-less problem, till-date, looming the minds of more than half the student body, but nobody has had the guts to talk about it because it’s of its taboo. People think that the monster of this conversation might engulf them whole. I am referring to the worrisome problem of on-campus harassment.
Here’s a record of my experience with on-campus harassment and my pursuit of anti-harassment committees. When I used to leave my house in the morning, pre-COVID, I used to leave thinking I was headed towards my safe haven; a place that had allowed me to be myself unapologetically and raise my voices. Soon enough, I learned that only some kind of voices need to be heard and the others are mitigated like they are in the entire country and so the cruel layers of truth started unfolding in front of me. Firstly, it was the politically opinionated selective hushing of students followed by harassers’ apologizer administration. I didn’t know how to make sense of the world when one of the most respectable teachers I had told me that my friend was being stalked by a guy because it was “irrational to treat men as anything but human”. I was supposed to humanize my friend’s harasser because I had made a big deal out of it, supposedly because I had never been in co-ed before. Similarly, I was distraught when I had a lecturer psychologically abuse me and imprison me under the guilt and shame of my actions while victoriously falling into the next semester without any repercussions; I knew I had been scarred for life. It was ironic when the first friends I made in GCU was a bunch of girls who talked about their harassers from back when they were minors. This was an eye-opening experience because all women have been harassed and none of them have a platform to discuss it and make peace with it. Every girl I have ever known has been harassed or emotionally/psychologically abused at some point in her life. We can’t register every time it happens because most of the abusive behaviors have been normalized by our so-called progressive society in the country based on the religion of peace and justice. I have had a stalker for a year who has put me through anxiety-attacks and break-downs but since he doesn’t dare touch me, and his stalking don’t bare witnesses, he runs free like a wild beast.
As energies are in March, mine along with a few of my friends’ spiked and we decided it was water above head now. We couldn’t wait any longer and something had to be done. We couldn’t let a bunch of old men decide who gets to play with our lives and sanity anymore so with a help of a few male allies, we were able to step up and get the word around. People needed to know that something was being done so they would break out of their cocoons of fright and passivity. We wanted student representation in anti-harassment committees but did our fellow students agree, we had to find out. We needed allies because such an administrative change needed numbers.
11th March 2020 was the day Shahab garden was laden with students and faculty alike, sitting in a circle, ready to talk about a topic never discussed so openly before; on-campus Harassment.
Needless to say, it was not gender-segregated. It was conveyed that the problem of harassment was recognized as an issue of the entire student body because psychological and even physical harassment at times does not look before it leaps. It does not need a gender, it needs a lower hierarchal position when it comes to power to exploit and abuse. People understood. One of the junior year students said,
“We deserve to be heard and understood.”
While another from their sophomore year expressed their concerns regarding the on-going harassment asking the audience while their voice creaked and shook,
“When will it END?”
A few faculty members also chimed in while voicing their concerns of being harassed by students owing to the power dynamics of gender where they can’t do anything about it because the harassment isn’t physical.
The conversation, which began at this study circle, evolved into a movement where students were willing to approach the newly appointed VC Asghar Zaidi, to listen to their concerns and formulate an anti-harassment committee. For this, an application was formulated and a bunch of students from campus was made signatories.
Unfortunately, the rise of COVID-19 put an abrupt stop to this venture towards student rights. This pandemic has truly changed the way of our lives and it scares me to think of a world post-COVID-19 where everything and nothing will be the same. I’m scared of the fact that our pursuit of human rights would have been lost in the whirl-wind and nobody would consider this a serious enough matter anymore. I hope the cause isn’t mitigated by the state of affairs and that an effect is still up and running when the university is. Until then, it’s constant vigilance.