In many incidents of sexual harassment reported recently, the overhead bridges of Punjab University appear to have become a no-go area for female students. Many students told Laaltain that they have been harassed, threatened, verbally abused and sometimes followed by unknown individuals while crossing the bridges alone. The New Campus of the university has three overhead bridges which were built to connect academic departments with the hostels. Students use these bridges to go to their departments or bus stops. The reported incidents took place at evenings when the students were alone.
“I was returning from my department in the evening through Hailey College overhead bridge when a middle aged man started passing indecent comments and making obscene gestures”, a female student told on the condition of anonymity. “I was terrified and almost ran away.” She added. Another female student of hostel No. 8, refusing to disclose her identity, told that she was frightened and terrified by a similar incident when she was harassed on one of the bridges by a man who started to unzip his pants on seeing her. The student told that she remained distressed for days and still cannot go out of her hostel on her own.
Some alumni of the University, going back till 2006, have also verified the existence of this issue.
The affected students gave an application to Hall Council, the administrative body responsible for hostels, seeking protection against these incidents. The authorities at Hall Council responded that they cannot help them by saying that this matter does not lie under their jurisdiction, and told the students to contact law enforcement authorities. Owing to established norms, the students are unwilling to go to a police station for the fear that it might bring a bad name to them and their families, nor can they tell their parents as it can jeopardize the continuation of their studies.
The Public Relations Officer of the University was not available to comment. Security officials, however, told Laaltain that such miscreants are not residing within the campus; they mostly come from the nearby shantytown called “shah di Khoi”. They also refused to have knowledge of any such incident of harassment.
It appears that the incidents of harassment are on rise for factors such as lack of awareness about anti-harassment laws, patriarchal family system and non-cooperation of the law enforcement agencies. The female students of Punjab University are still awaiting some measure from the university authorities.