Interview with the Secretary (Women’s Affairs), Students’ Council, Ms. Debaleena Basu
1) What is your prime focus as the Secretary (Women’s Affairs)?
When I started my term, my prime focus was twofold: to deal with cases I receive strongly and to provide the victim the support she needs, and also in general, to try to take steps to improve security in the campus and build up a networking platform where all lady students can interact. My focal areas still remain the same. Initially, I had met with the Chief Security Officer to understand the current system of security and was in the process of suggesting some improvements on the same. This still is the long-term plan and we (the members of the Women’s Welfare Committee and I) are working on it. The networking has already started in women’s groups and though initially, it was fueled by recent incidents of security breaches, I am hoping that the communities will remain active and vibrant as general interaction platforms.
2) How frequently do you receive complaints pertaining to eve-teasing, harassment, etc.? When you receive a complaint, what actions do you take?
I have received two complaints related to gender-related harassment so far. The approach I have taken for both the complaints is to first get the details of the incident and then follow-up with the security office regarding the actions being taken on the case. If any infrastructural measures (or any other measures like counseling, etc.) are required to ensure safety with respect to that particular case, the suggestions are then sent to other offices for execution. Typically, I have tried to get everything done within a week or two of receiving the complaint. Also, I maintain constant communication with the complainant so that she is informed of the steps being taken and her consent is taken before proceeding.
3) In the light of the recent security lapses, what measures are being taken to ensure that such lapses do not occur again?
As I said, specific cases have been dealt with specific measures. In case of the recent hostel breach, I met the warden and then we went to inspect the hostels, following which I had requested certain immediate measures to improve security in the hostels, NGH in particular. Now security in NGH has been beefed up somewhat (more security guards, basement door locked, lights around hostel put on) and the warden has informed me (and the other girls in the women’s group) that they are working on the other suggestions put forward by us (latches on common doors, biometric locks, etc.). I am following up the process to try and get the measures completed at the earliest.
4) How safe do you feel women are on campus?
The IISc campus is huge and the perceived safety of different areas varies. In my opinion, the gates of the campus are pretty porous and will not be much of a barrier if miscreants were to enter. Also, some areas are dimly lit, have low pedestrian traffic and as such are not provided with round-the clock security: these are all potential places where incidents of eve-teasing/harassment can take place. All in all, it is not that the campus falls in the extreme category of being totally unsafe; many of us have spent a substantial time here with flexible lab timings (returning late at night, etc.) without encountering any problems. However, objectively speaking, there is a lot of room for improvement in the general security level in the campus.
Over the years, time and again, incidents have happened which point towards the loopholes in the security system.
In order to inch closer to the ‘safe for women’ tag, more women should come forward to give feedback about the security measures in the ‘normal’ condition as well, not just when something untoward happens. For now, many girls have conveyed to me that a part of the ‘safety factor’ is individual driven, i.e. which way to return back to the hostel, what time, whether coming alone or with friends, keeping hostel balconies locked, etc. It would be optimal if one didn’t have to bother about these things when inside the institute.