By: Maria Uzma Ansari
Events took a strange turn for the students of Delhi University’s Gargi College during their three-day annual fest Reverie’2020, which was held from the 4th of February to 6th February. According to eye-witnesses, when the stage of Reverie’2020 was all set to welcome singer Jubin Nautiyal on the third and the final day of the fest, around 4-4:30pm, hundreds of men started gate-crashing and coming through the gates of the Gargi college.
The event on its third day had a pass-system, in order to prevent over-crowding. Each and every girl of the college was provided with a pass that she could hand-out to a male friend or a family member for the 6th of February. Girls of other colleges did not require entry passes, and their college IDs sufficed. There were separate gates for the entry of males and females, however according to eye-witnesses, there was complete mismanagement right from the beginning at the gates itself, there was no checking of college IDs and people were allowed inside the college premises without any passes. Men kept exiting from the women’s gates because there was no one to put a check on them and the pass system was not executed efficiently.
The college has a humble campus and at around 4:30pm according to reports, there were already 5000 people present inside the campus, and more were pouring in. Taking advantage of the chaos and the crowd, men began to throw themselves at women in the crowd, sexually assaulting, groping and cornering women. A student while speaking to AapkaTimes said that “I myself must have heard about a hundred and fifty testimonies about instances of sexual harassment from the 3rd day of the fest.” Another female student says that ‘she had no choice but to stand in the same crowd, with her molester for the next forty minutes, because there was no way to move out of the main ground.’
Even while there was an announcement from the stage, calling women who were being harassed to the barricades, women found themselves unable to move from their spots. There was overcrowding and no crowd management. Men walked with their shirts unbuttoned, as well as shirtless, masturbating in front of female students any chance they could get. There were several cases of medical emergencies, and a third-year student while speaking to us says “I saw several female students who had fainted, lying on the ground unattended; many others were experiencing severe anxiety and panic attacks.” Worse things happened as the evening progressed and similar instances have been reported by different students, these are just a few personal testimonies:
“In 2019, The annual fest of Gargi college saw a massive breach of security. The paucity of bouncers and police inside and outside the college caused a rowdy crowd to enter the college. Post that, individuals present inside faced sexual and physical harassment. In light of the same, an official complaint was filed with the ICC. The complaint was dismissed as a mere security issue, not a sexual harassment complaint. In a follow up, a pass system was introduced this year. On the third day, only the men with passes were supposed to enter the college. However, after 3:30 pm, every ten minutes, crowds of 300-400 individuals would push the gates and enter the college. The administration also showed its laxity by opening gates from time to time. Although the entry was to be stopped at 4:30pm, the influx continued till late. Meanwhile, approximately 8000-10,000 individuals accumulated in the campus. The individuals jumped the gates, sat on the stalls of vendors, and damaged the property of Gargi actively. Men stood in gangs and ogled at women, groped them, tried to feel them up, pushed them, and touched them throughout the concert. After the concert was over, the men followed women, catcalled them, and forced them to reveal their names and Instagram ids.”
“The security guards stopped checking IDs after 3pm. I am claustrophobic, so I decided to leave at around 5pm but it was very difficult to move in such a huge crowd without being touched by men. I somehow made it to the main gate and then I saw that they are still allowing people to enter. Even though the last entry time was 4pm. Then two or three times, they let a car enter the gate and along with it came a huge crowd of men. The police there was just standing. I myself saw many men jumping through the walls to enter the campus.”
“I was grabbed by men I couldn’t even see and also had my skirt lifted along with being told how I was asking for it with the way I was dressed. We were shoved and pushed the entire time.”
“I was groped by three men and they laughed in my face.”
“A girl from Da weyal Singh college who was standing near the Hues stall started crying because of the men around her. We called her inside the stall and she was terrified.”
“There was a group of five or six men that did not look like college students. One of them pushed me really hard and tried to hold me by my waist. The group was shouting words of obscenity and laughing in my face in a creepy manner and I froze.
“There was also no connectivity inside the campus, which made it impossible for friends to find one another in the crowd in case they felt insecure or students to call someone for help.”
The female students speaking to us, though they’d like to preserve their anonymity say that, at the first indication of a red flag, they had brought matters to the notice of the organisers of the fest, as well as the teachers who were supposed to act as advisors for the fest. Yet, as a student says when seeking a teacher’s assistance, she was shunned aside as the teacher moved away saying “I cannot do anything right now, there are too many people”. The administration had given up.
When matters were brought to the notice of the Principal of the college Dr. Promila Kumar, Dr. Kumar had a nonchalant reply for the concerned students “aap log hi kehte ho fest karvao, agar itna unsafe lagta hai toh mat aaya karo”. Having said that, AapkaTimes was successful in getting a statement from the college’s principal. While speaking to us, Dr Promila Kumar retorted: “It was overcrowded no doubt, and few people crashed the gate, but everything was handled because there was enough police arrangement, there were bouncers. No student was harassed. No casualty was reported. Everyone was happy and dispersed nicely.” which clearly contradicts the hundreds of testimonies that are pouring in, that tell a different tale about the police’s as well as the administration’s incompetence and indifference.
According to the Students’ Union’s official statement, “Gates were barged open because of lack of resources at the gates, a car was pushed inside with the crowd, some of the hinges were broken which made the gate flimsy and hundreds of people went inside, to which the response we received, Let them come in now, it’ll get vacated on its own, we can do nothing.” Things kept dis-functioning and student volunteers were helpless without the administration’s support. We are being told that the RAF was deployed at the gates, as well as the PCR vans, however neither the college security nor the RAF did anything. When interrogated by the female students about their unwillingness to act in that situation they simply replied that “they had not received orders to act”.
Many of the students of the union had requested that the grounds be evacuated, as the safety of the female students was being compromised inside the college premises but after witnessing inaction on part of its college administration, around 5:30pm, as a student recalls “we tried evacuating ourselves by forming human chains, because by this time the campus area was filled up to a point which was beyond comfort or safety.” Even after that, the students recall that seas of men kept coming through the college gates until 6pm and afterwards, even though the passes mentioned that all entries were to stop at 4.30 pm. The concert wasn’t called off and the show went on, amidst screams and severe violation of consent and personal space.
The students have had similar experiences during Reverie last year, but upon bringing their concerns to the administration’s notice, they were only met by suggestions ‘to cancel the fest this year’. The students are now waiting for Monday, when the entire student body as well as the students’ council has decided to gather at 10 am, in the Main Arch of the college to demand the Principal and the Union Advisor’s resignation as well as answers from the college authorities.
The students are also worried, as they do not know where to take their genuine concerns to as the ICC though it exists within the campus, is a non-functioning body inside it. The students are sure that the administration will be uncooperative like they have been in the past when the students had tried to arrange solidarity marches to stand with the people of India, and brush the entire issue under the mat, like it has done in the past. Nevertheless, the students are trying their best to bring the issue to the notice of mainstream media.
Even before this, the members of Kshitij— the theatre society of gargi college, were warned by the administration that their dramas could not have any political content. The students of Hues— the fine arts society of gargi as well as Iris— the photography society of gargi college had tried to use art as an expression of protest for Reverie 2020, putting up decorations inspired by the outrage sparked across campuses in India, although they had these decorations taken down by the administration and pictures removed from Iris’ wall of protest.
Albeit all this, students have resolved to not let this issue be brushed aside through apathetical comments like ‘molestation is common and it happens during every fest’ as they recognise that the normalisation of sexual assault and harassment in our society is an evil, especially when this issue begins to present itself within the larger picture of how unsafe college and university campuses have become across the country. The duty of our security is entrusted with the administration, and we don’t go to our colleges to be groped or gunned down.