New Delhi, May 19
She remembers a man who just wouldn’t leave her and her friend alone at the Singhu protest site. They would be followed everywhere. Eventually his breaking point came. She punched him hard in the stomach.
“Imagine the first word that came out of her mouth: ‘sister’. I told her to get lost and go back to her hometown,” says activist and researcher Kanupriya, the first and only female president (2018) of the history of Punjab University Student Union in Chandigarh who spent months at the farmers protest site in Singhu and was instrumental in mobilizing urban women in Punjab and Chandigarh to to join the demonstrations against the new agricultural laws.
Even as the alleged gang rape of a 26-year-old Bengali woman in Tikri made headlines a few days ago, several young women are filing accusations of sexual misconduct at protest sites.
Recently, another survivor opened up in Kanupriya. She told him that a man had constantly followed her throughout the protests even though she was with her mother and her friend.
The person then proceeded to take pictures of her, after which she snatched his phone and confronted him.
“Despite dozens of people around, no one came forward to support her. It was really shocking to us. You have to react and act. When we challenge such men in society, why not in progressive circles as well? ” Simran Atwal has a degree in chemical engineering and is currently studying law. Not affiliated with any organization, she traveled to the Singhu protest site on her own and stayed there three times. Recalling her experience on the site during one of her visits, she says: “A young man from Punjab, a former member of Students For Society (SFS), very active in progressive circles, who was challenged by many activists on the social media, was a permanent fixture on the Singhu protest site. Every time I met him, he would propose to me, and just wouldn’t leave me alone. He touched my face a few times, even though I thought I was very uncomfortable with it. Once when I went with my sister, he touched her too. I never interacted with him after that.
In fact, the same young man, a permanent fixture in most protests in Punjab and Chandigarh, also active in the CAA-NRC protests in Shaheen Bagh, was called out by several women for harassing them at different times and places. .
Pointing out that she personally knows more than 10 women who have been harassed at farmers’ protest sites, Atwal believes it is high time that Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) realizes that if a significant number of women show their support , they too have a responsibility towards them.
“It can’t be one-sided, right? You can’t let us support you, but completely neglect our issues. That’s not how it should be,” she adds.
Kanupriya says they initially didn’t want to go out individually for fear of being “tagged”. “We were also worried about the morcha because the girls were afraid it might be in play.”
After being made public, they contacted ‘Women Against State Repression and Sexual Harassment’ (WSS). “Our aim was to put pressure on the SKM leadership. We wanted a support system. It is very important that there is an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) with hotline numbers and members ready to listen “, explains Kanupriya.
Recalling a tweet from an activist, who read, “I will not support any movement unless it is safe for women,” the former student leader reached out to her. “
When I spoke with her, I realized that she was referring to the peasant movement. The women resist the agitation. But they will not tolerate harassment and misogyny.”
Contrary to popular perception, activists have not had it easy in the turmoil.
“I remember that at the beginning, the day before I was there, young women who had accompanied the morcha on November 26, stood up to men who were insulting each other. There were several who had vomited all over the place after getting drunk and dancing to obscene songs. But we women are always challenged and no one ever questions these miscreants.
Another activist from Abhor adds, “I pushed hard for an IIC from day one. Previously, I worked as an individual, so my voice didn’t matter much. We recently formed a group for victims of harassment, in order to exert collective pressure. Then there is another group “WSS”, which I recently joined through some girls. This group works with many organizations. So they have a strong presence and a strong voice. They did a really good job of putting pressure on SKM.”
Speaking to IANS, Union State Committee Member Bharatiya Kisan (Krantikari) Sukhwinder Kaur said steps were being taken to address the issue. “The key is to address issues that arise. I know the state will do a lot to discredit the movement, but it’s important to make sure everyone’s issues are looked at. I’m in Bathinda at the moment. The moment I’m back in Singhu, we plan to form a five-member committee so that sexual harassment complaints can be filed immediately.”
The president of the women’s wing of the powerful Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), Harinder Bindu, who leads more than 40,000 women associated with the union, clarified that those accused of the alleged gang rape were not even camping near their place of demonstration, says: “They were in Tikri, but in the other part. In fact, when we learned about the incident, it was we who raised the matter. ensured we were on his side.”
Ask her if they plan to address harassment issues at protest sites, and she replies, “Yes, we are going to set up a female-run office near our protest site in Tikri. By the way, We have always provided patrols by car and on foot near the tents where our women managers are installed.There is a constant dialogue with them to ensure that they feel safe. —IANS