How a campus poll on sexual consent was met with ugly moral policing

It's high time we understand the importance of talking openly about sex, spreading awareness and detaching the taboo.

 |  6-minute read |   08-10-2015
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Two women journalists, Esha Paul and Urmi Bhattacheryya, reached the Delhi University's North Campus to do a story as part of The Quint's #MakeOutInIndia campaign that aims to openly talk about taboo topics on sex and sexuality. The story was to explore the ambiguity of sexual consent, how young adults perceive and understand it.

Things took an ugly turn when they were interrupted by a Delhi University Students' Union (DUSU) member, while they were interviewing two students who came forward at will to talk after learning about the topic. The young man proclaimed they cannot proceed without getting his permission since he's a DUSU member. Irked by the journalists' stand that they were shooting at a public place of an open campus, not under the DUSU's authority, the young man furiously made some phone calls and within minutes, a group of five men rushed to the spot.

Also read: Our morals don't need policing but our streets do

Famous for campaign slogans like "Fortuner mai rawana Satendar Awana" that will put the likes of Honey Singh to shame, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) leader Satendar Awana was one of the five who arrived, and had an ABVP sash around his neck, which seemed more like proving a point. Before the journalists knew, the argument about space turned into a concern about morality. What started off with a comment that they were asking "immoral" questions to "innocent bystanders", soon escalated to personal attacks like "you clearly have sex, that's why you're talking about it openly" and then stooped down to the level when one of the DUSU member exclaimed, "Sex karne ka bahut shouq hai na tumhe (You love having sex, don't you)?"

On asking whether they were abused physically or verbally, Urmi said, "They tried all kinds of mob tactics to intimidate us. We were called a range of names during the entire episode - from 'campus corrupters' to 'sex-loving, promiscuous women'. The threatening cicle they formed around us was only broken when the cops came."

Also read: BJP, spare us the moral policing on drinking age. Learn from AAP

Seeing the situation deteriorating by the minute, the Quint team decided to leave but were stopped by the DUSU hooligans, who threatened to break the camera. Increasing the number of DUSU members to around 22, DUSU treasurer Anjali Rana and a DU student Priya Sharma joined the crowd, and were followed by policemen who surrounded them.

Priya, who had just come in to the scene started narrating a fabricated story to the police saying "Mujhe toh itni sharam aa rahi thi inke sawaal dekh ke (I felt so ashamed by their questions)..." and even dared to add, "I didn't want to answer, but they told me I was an adult and must answer their questions."

Recollecting the incident, Esha said, "Our cameraperson Sanjoy da (Deb) was being threatened by one DUSU rep (representative). He kept physically very close to the camera and tried to see what we were doing. One guy even said, 'Pehle aapka camera todenge, phir cameraperson ko todenge' ('First we'll break your camera, and then we'll thrash your cameraperson')."

The police refused to listen to the journalists' version of the story, took them to the police station, accompanied by SHO Arti Sharma. The ABVP "dignitaries" were already waiting at the station, hell-bent on filing a case against the journalists stating they tarnished the honour of Priya Sharma, by asking sexual questions in front of a male cameraperson.

To the journalists' luck, SHO Sharma, along with two teachers from Miranda House, Deepika Tandon and Saswati Sengupta, who joined them at the station shut the rowdy gang up giving them apt replies and countering their baseless arguments with strong statements. Meanwhile, the teachers testified nobody had to take DUSU's permission to enter/shoot inside the campus and there was no law that gave the DUSU right to stop anyone. They also tried to make the "leaders" understand they had no business to decide what was appropriate for other young adults and reminded them the students could decide for themselves whether they wanted to talk freely about sex or not.

SHO Sharma managed to end the matter after hours of debate and discussion. Esha and Urmi tells us the DUSU bunch were sending them death stares while they were leaving the police station.

When asked whether they were intimidated, Urmi said, "I don't think either Esha, Sanjoy da or me were intimidated at any point. Other than trying to snatch the questionnaire from our hands and break our camera, the lowest thing they did, of course, was to call up a female student/friend to the spot who then began to lie to the cops. She wasn't even there when we were doing our poll and yet she started telling the cops how we had coerced her into answering our questions. She'd apparently been very embarrassed by our 'sex-related' questions but we'd forced her to answer. We were just apprehensive when the numbers started growing because we were outnumbered. SHO Sharma and two Miranda House teachers were the saving grace."

Here are the questions The Quint were planning to ask the students:

1) If they want to have sex, but then later change their mind. Can they still change their mind and have sex?

2) If they've been touchy-feely with you before and have always been okay with it but are backing out today. Should you try to have sex with them?

3) If they said "no" firmly, can you still change their mind and have sex?

4) If they say "no" but are smiling while they are saying it, is it okay to have sex?

It is high time we understand the importance of talking openly about sex, spreading awareness and detaching the taboo, for that is the only way to progress. The fate of the DU under the leadership of a regressive young bunch comprising Satendar and Priya should be a matter of serious concern.

Holding up India's culture as a tool, backed by regressive ministers like Mahesh Sharma, the agenda of these people seem to be to sabotage a liberating generation, and this will take this country back to all those ill practices that prevailed, including untouchability and push us again into the clutches of patriarchy, something we are fighting so hard to be free from.

In a detailed post, The Quint's founder Ritu Kapur explains why they chose to start a campaign titled "Make Out In India".

As fellow sane human beings, we condemn the acts of the DUSU members and would like to remind them about the right to freedom of speech and expression - a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution - a right they consider their monopoly.

The argument that women will be corrupted if they talk about sex, how someone's "sisters and daughters", who are adults, cannot take decisions for themselves and most importantly, how these young men, like many other right-wing groups, proclaim themselves to be the custodians of morality in India, should be strongly opposed by each one of us. Let us together, work towards making India a country that respects every individual's freedom of choice, speech and expression. As for these brave journalists, well done. You can read their first hand account here.


Vivek Surendran Vivek Surendran @ivivek_nambiar

The writer is an engineer turned marketer turned journalist who believes that powerful words can change the world. When not at work, could be found travelling, exploring the world through a DSLR.

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