Setting an example: BIT-Mesra
One of the most sought-after autonomous tech hubs in eastern India, BIT-Mesra, on Ranchi outskirts, takes gender equality very seriously.
Started in 2011, the women’s cell of the institute addresses some four-five incidents of gender-based discrimination, sexism or abuse — physical or verbal — firmly, without fuss or sensation mongering.
Women contact the cell with complaints that range from verbal assault and crank phone calls to obscene SMSes and harassment from owners of fake Facebook accounts.
Led by chairperson Usha Jha, professor and head, department of applied chemistry, BIT-Mesra, it has members including S.G. Panpalia, Papiya Mazumdar, Bindu Lal, Vibha Rani Gupta and Nidhi Jaiswal.
Most cases, Jha said, were related to “gender-based discriminatory behaviour”.
“Students, teachers and non-teaching staff face the brunt of male misbehaviour, which may be in the form of verbal insult simply because the recipient happens to be a woman. As far as sexual harassment is concerned, we keep complaints confidential during probe,” Jha said.
The cell prides itself on handling cases with maturity.
“We document the complaints and keep them as a record for our inquiry. We call the person as well as his parents or other family members. In most of the cases, we settle the matter with an apology and ask the person accused to suit action to the word,” Jha said.
There is a provision to suspend the accused “in extreme cases” but till date no student has been suspended.
“In November, we will hold a sensitisation workshop to prevent sexual harassment,” Jha added.
What does Jha feel about the complaints at a reputable place of higher learning?
“This is a reputable place, which is why the institution has mechanisms to check aberrant behaviour. All women must feel safe on campus. We must provide a congenial atmosphere to every person, gender no bar,” Jha said firmly.
For girl students who write or email firstname.lastname@example.org with their problems, the cell is certainly doing its job. As Surabhi Goenka, fourth-year student of architecture, said: “The women cell is a great stress-buster. We know where to go if things get out of hand.”
Do male-dominated tech hubs make women feel unsafe?