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Veterinary college wasn’t a comfortable place for girls. Not because of anything else. It was only because the boys made sure they harassed us.
The first few weeks of college involved walking to class with hundreds of senior class boys in the corridor hooting, grunting and moaning out our names. Some even threw paper and chalk at us. Between classes a bunch of them would come into the classroom and ask us lewd questions and leave with a remark, “Learn to respect us”.
Trigger warning: This article contains some descriptions of verbal abuse as well as harassment of women of women that could be triggering for some readers.
Besides that, vulgar drawings were etched on the wall and our wooden desks with our names on it. There is one I will never forget. It was a drawing of a woman spreading her legs and a huge phallic object entering her, captioned “Gowri tullige bekkina tunne” meaning “A cat’s penis for Gowri’s vagina”.
I was hurt with these kinds of messages repeatedly like many other girls on our campus, but I didn’t understand this one fully. That evening I went to a final year, “Sudhakka, why a cat’s penis?” Her eyes welled up with tears and she said, “Let it go, don’t bother about these things, you have to survive 5 more years, this is just the beginning of college.” I didn’t leave her room until she explained why a cat. Once she did, I felt so helpless and miserable. I wanted to go home, I wanted to be somewhere safe. Cat penises are covered with spicules that hurt.
The day I got admission into Veterinary college; the seat allocation was at Dharwad Agriculture university. I was there with my uncle and cousin. Those of you who know me well, will know how much I wanted to become a Veterinarian.
I went to the phone booth to call my parents to give them news of my admission. While I was on the phone, a bunch of boys started banging on the booth’s tin walls. I was too excited to bother with this intimidation, but it got worse. These boys increased in number and started making lewd gestures, sounds and hooting. They were saying things like “Lucky Bidar boys, they’ll get a good shag (masturbation)”, “Why couldn’t she get admission into Dharwad, we could have fun” etc.
During our 3rd year, on Holi, my roommate and I are were walking back from the library. We generally walk in pairs or more. Walking alone on campus wasn’t comfortable. The harassment felt less painful when we weren’t alone.
The boys were playing holi on the playground. We knew this was not good news because they tend to get more rowdy on such days. Just before we reached our hostel a senior vet student from the 4th year threw colour on us. Some of it got into my eye, so I stood still for a second. My roommate had managed to escape. Taking this opportunity, he threw more colour on my face and groped me. I started yelling, I couldn’t see anything, and then I felt another pair of hands feel my waist. I started crying and that cleared my eyes enough to find my way to the hostel door.
I felt dirty for so long it was unbearable. I wished I could remove all my female body parts and end this problem once and for all.
Our five years of under graduation was a constant battle. We would constantly hear hurtful remarks. It was not restricted to only lady parts, they took liberty to comment on our weight, colour, height, skin texture, caste, religion and where we came from. They yelled from the hostel windows, commented in the corridors, shouted from the back of classrooms, threw chalk at us.
If our braid was on our shoulder, they would hoot that we were in heat. If we wore a new dress, it was about what was underneath. We could hear them tell each other to look into our dress if we were bending over to look into a microscope, treating a patient, sitting at our desk. If we scored well in our exams, it was because we have breasts and a vagina. We would get anonymous calls on the landline with ugly description of our body parts. Later, when we had cell phones, we started getting sick messages from countless phone numbers. So many that the phone memory would shut down.
We had to also be vigilant from some of them touching or brushing against us in practical classes. The library magazines and newspaper had collective squiggly commentary about us wherever there was a woman model in a print ad. Some masters students would explain in class how useless women are professionally. I can go on. If we complained and administration took action, the harassment increased.
I shared a draft of this with some girls from my university. They said I am under expressing the pain we went through. I also learnt that senior students teach and threaten the first-year boys into harassing the girls saying, “Should keep them in control from the beginning.”
They would have asked us to leave or complained to admin. We all had our reasons to stay, we wanted education, to graduate, become a vet, make a living, become financially independent. But, is this the price we have to pay?
None of us looked forward to class. We gritted our teeth and held our tears. We started count down of the number of days we had left to graduate from our 3rd year. Many of us suffered through depression, low self-image, anxiety from fear of going to class, psychosomatic disorders, eating disorders, insomnia, poor health and poor life choices.
I am writing this in hope to encourage a better atmosphere in Veterinary and Agricultural universities. I am not saying every man from this university is a culprit. Senior students are known to force first year boys into such behaviour too. There were many kind and friendly boys from my class and college that I am still friends with. But their efforts to be nice to us got them into trouble in the boys’ hostel from seniors.
We need a change in attitude towards girls and women in this field. There is systemic misogyny in our society, but shouldn’t our educational institutions be the first to be free of it?
Top image is from the movie Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya which features some harassment and stalking
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