What was meant to be a panel discussion on the harassment women face online turned into a practical demonstration, when DU student activist Kawalpreet Kaur was allegedly attacked by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, in New Delhi, on Thursday, 22 February. The incident took place in the auditorium of Satyawati College.
Kaur had been invited to speak about her own experiences of being harassed online, at the event organised by She The People and Google. However, student union members, some of whom are affiliated with the ABVP, disrupted the event midway, protesting Kaur's inclusion.
Kaur told Firstpost that she had finished with the panel discussion, and was seated in the front row of the auditorium when 30-40 students -- among them members of the ABVP -- made their way inside. They allegedly demanded Kaur's ouster from the premises, nearly resorting to physical violence. "They were pointing at me and saying, 'Throw her out, kick her out. Or give her and her phone to us. We will not tolerate her presence in our college,'" Kaur told Firstpost.
While some of the college faculty and co-panelists shielded Kaur from the mon, others tried to reason with the protesting union members and engage in a constructive dialogue.
However, Kaur says the protestors' agenda was to get her "thrown out of the premises". She further states that two professors were physically attacked. The college principal's called for the protestors to stop were not needed either. Phones of those attendees who were recording the ruckus were snatched, Kaur said, "so that there would be no proof of what they were doing."
The police were called and a human chain formed to get Kaur safely off the Satyawati College premises. She then filed an FIR at the Bharat Nagar police station.
Kaur -- the president of the Delhi University All India Students' Association and a well-known student activist -- previously had an altercation with ABVP members at Satyawati College in August 2017. She had filed a complaint with the police at that time as well. As per reports, Kaur had said she was visiting the college to meet a professor and fellow activists when she was accosted by the ABVP members, who gheraoed her and demanded to see her ID card.
"They touched me inappropriately. I filed an FIR, but the police failed to act on my last complaint. This is perhaps why they had the audacity to do this again. After I filed the FIR, the perpetrators contacted me and asked me to withdraw it," Kaur told Firstpost of this previous incident.
Meanwhile, the ABVP maintains that the incident at Satyawati College on 22 February didn't involve any physical violence and no one was hurt. ABVP spokesperson Saket Bahuguna told Firstpost, "There was not even a scratch on Kawalpreet. There was no fight there; only a verbal altercation because the union had a problem with the invitation extended to her. But nobody was hurt, and even in the video she has been circulating and the complaint she has given to the police, she has nowhere mentioned that she was hurt. The police and SHO will confirm that there was no fight. There was a democratic protest by the college union, against the invitation given to a woman who has been banned from entering the college."
Bahuguna says Kaur was banned from the Satyawati College premises after the August 2017 incident by the principal of the evening section (the morning and evening sections are run separately). Kaur, however, has said this is untrue.
Bahuguna says that the students were protesting against Kaur because she has made "false accusations" in the past, and routinely "makes commotion". "In April last year, she did the same thing, which was found to be fake... You can Google her name to know how many times she has accused the ABVP or NSUI or other organisations," he adds.
Bahuguna says that he does not know which other organisations were part of the protest, except that it was led by the Satyawati College Students Union, which has members from various organisations. "I know the college students' union secretary Kunal Yadav was part of the protest. He filed a complaint through the college proctoral board against Kawalpreet, for creating commotion. There's a video which shows her getting violent and abusing them, making lewd remarks at male students, which she did the last time too," he said.
Esha Shekhar, a lawyer who works with Ungender, a member of the Ministry for Women and Children, and a co-panelists at the Satyawati College event put up a Facebook post describing the fracas:
SheThePeople founder Shaili Chopra too condemned the behaviour of the protestors, on Twitter:
We organized a discussion on women’s safety and we had students from unions who came and disrupted our talk at a time @kawalpreetdu talked about how women are trolled - shocked that this is what colleges are about - politically motivated groups of men threatening, manhandling
— Shaili Chopra (@shailichopra) February 22, 2018
Many students who came to disrupt the conversation didn’t even belong to the college, they made noises about having panelists who have a voice, an opinion different from theirs - this is what student politics is about? Not for students but for some political motive? https://t.co/VOBgrdywoD — Shaili Chopra (@shailichopra) February 22, 2018
Speaking to Firstpost, Chopra said, "We cannot intimidate and threaten women. Students, activists, opinion makers, every single person has a right to speak up, and stand up. Is unionism politics? How are students of unions behaving like this? Is it driven by some other motivation? Why are they even getting a backing? Let's remove our blinkers and smell the coffee -- women are unsafe not just in a secluded street but also when they speak up. Today's incident has convinced me that if we don't make women's safety a national agenda that is actually executed (not just as slogans and posters) our other achievements as a nation are pointless."
Members of the AISA, SFI, DISHA and other student organisations released a joint statement condemning the incident.
The staff association of Satyawati College had a meeting and passed a resolution condemning the incident. Two students have reportedly been suspended.
Kaur said what transpired is ironic considering the subject that was being discussed at the event. "We were talking about how women should make use of the law and how they should not submit to self censorship. We were talking about online harassment, and these people disrupted the talk and engaged in physical harassment," Kaur said. "You're not safe in the digital world or the real world."
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Updated Date: Feb 22, 2018 22:21:00 IST