JNU and the ‘sex scandal’: Aprajita Sarcar
This is a guest post by APRAJITA SARCAR
As a former JNU student, it is a pity that I have to write this post in order to draw attention to a crisis that needs urgent attention: the inability to talk about intimacy. I say intimacy, as against sex, as against scandal, as against molestation, as against the “professionally shot” footage that made it to the front pages of newspapers.
Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has a crisis to face that has been imminent for a while, and it comes from the inability to talk intimately, about intimacies. Because intimacies are distinct from rhetoric. With the Student’s Union made ‘unconstitutional’, students’ politics now, more than ever, has been using the vocabulary which has been made the norm by the various political wings. Any incident that sparks off some disagreement is followed by parchas that the parties or independent students bring out and paste on the walls of the hostels, libraries and schools. But the parchas are unable to induce conversations, honest conversations in which we are required to acknowledge all the voices in our heads.
The general body meetings that follow are restricted to some marked names brandishing their ability to pull through rhetoric with no space for intimacy. And so, when CDs or pendrives circulated footage of a couple having sex in a room in a hostel everyone knew and passed by a number of times, and when the footage was circulated, even in the main library for a few days, what followed was a stilted silence, in the conversations deemed public. But in the intimate spaces of the hostels, over hoarded-up cigarettes and alcohol (since both are banned on campus), followed the intimate conversations. In which, worry and the inability to comprehend what had happened, were the most common expressions.
For every JNU student today, the question is not how the incident took place, but whether they will be able to acknowledge the kind of questions that the video clip has sparked in them: Who are these students? How could he have made such a CD? Where is the girl? What happened to her? How could he shoot her without her consent? How could he shoot it in the first place? And the most important questions that follow: Am I a voyeur when I watch it? Am I to feel guilty for watching it? Did I play a role in it?
Strangely, everyone is looking at the ‘administration’ to do something. Their moves to change hostel mess timings, and restricting girls’ entry into boys’ wings were pre-empted. Its almost as if the administration’s moves were making space for SOME kind of public conversations to follow. But in the protests which follow the restrictions imposed, I am still looking for a space for intimacy, for a space to acknowledge the inability to understand consensual sex and the way the incident has informed my understanding of intimacies on campus.
This same inability surfaces every time cases of sexual harassment surface on campus: Who harassed whom? Why did the girl take so long to come to the Committee against Sexual Harassment? Why was she seen with the boy after filing the case? As a friend of the girl, being a girl, how could you even talk to the alleged harasser? I have lost friends, intimate ones, to the polemical shape which arguments around sexual relationships, take on campus, wherein, to stand by the victim is to slander the accused. But mud-slinging and retribution cannot take the place of real conversations. And the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University needs to take the ‘semi-legal’, private conversations in the hostels and dhabas seriously enough for them to take place in a publicly intimate context, something the parchas fail to do.
I am not disrespecting the conviction needed to walk with cellotape and gum in hand, sticking these posters on the walls and gates around the huge campus. I am just asking for the deepening of those discussions, so that the parchas not just be read silently, while going back to the rooms where what I really make of the topic at hand is aired out. Although this post is aimed at the campus itself, but what is under attack, is the larger inability of talking about sexual intimacies and the fact of them being recorded on camera. Reminiscent of the MMS of the students of Delhi Public School (DPS), which made to the headlines four years back, the questions of ‘How could they?’ need to be supplemented by what does it mean to record intimacy on camera. And what does it mean to watch them. Especially since these clips cannot be deemed “porn” directly (at least in my head). There are philosophical questions at stake here, about how I see myself, and of what it means for me to be performing an intimate act on camera, and then distributing it? It is because this question haunts me that I write about it.
I hesitate to take the stance of reprimanding any such acts, simply because I understand the pleasure involved in seeing the clips. Repremanding and holding someone guilty for voyeurism stubs out conversation about pleasure and guilt-ridden pleasure at that. As of now, posting it on line, here. But what we need is more talk, more forthright acceptance of the parts of us, that disturb us.