It is difficult to comment on the findings of a questionnaire to which only a tiny fraction of stakeholders bothered to respond. But that dispiriting fact is perhaps the most important revelation made by the University Grant Commission’s report on women’s safety and gender sensitivity in university campuses all over India. Out of the 35,000 colleges and 700 universities to which the questionnaire was sent out, less than 12 per cent of the universities and 4 per cent of the colleges cared enough about these matters to respond; most of these institutions stopped at offering practical and punitive solutions. Technologies of surveillance (CCTV cameras, female guards and patrolling) and gender-unequal regulations regarding mobility and behaviour dominate most of the thinking — if that is what it may be called — displayed in the responses, many of which betrayed a “defensiveness... if not insensitivity and denial” about these issues.
It is to be expected that educational institutions would want to think through women’s safety and gender sensitivity in a more principled, rigorous and broad-minded way than, say, banks and shopping malls. But most authorities in higher education turn out to be better at being bureaucrats, administrators and disciplinarians than being thinkers, educators and sensitizers. So, incidents like the Delhi gang-rape, or the outbreak of violence against a female student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus, are met with, at best, unthinkingly imposed restrictions on the movement of women, or, at worst, indifference and tokenism (nominally constituted sexual harrassments cells). That thinking through such a vital issue — which is equally relevant to the lives of men and women, teachers, students and staff — should be an integral part of higher education (be it in the sciences, humanities or vocational courses), and that the matter should be handled with a degree of intellectual, pedagogical and political seriousness, do not seem to occur to most institutional authorities in India. This is not only disappointing but also dangerous.