Burying conversations, policing female students, and the lack of sensitisation training provided to teachers is a common occurrence in schools across Delhi and beyond. When a Delhi girl exposed a ‘bois locker room‘ group chat and its participants on Instagram late last night, social media blew up with conversations about how girls are sexually exploited by sharing private images of them without their consent among third parties and threatening comments that go to the extent of rape threats. While this incident is shocking and despicable, it is certainly not new.
I have, firsthand, witnessed groups of boys as young as 14-years of age in schools participating in such activities in varying degrees. Having a girl’s private photos was, and is, considered a kind of achievement for them to boast about, and share among their friends who are just as complicit. When I first witnessed this happen at my own school, I was in ninth grade myself and not one boy, nor teacher stood up for all the girl students who were silently going through this traumatic experience. It was an open secret that no one had the courage to call out. Perhaps out of fear, shame, or simply because they themselves allowed such activities to take place. The Boys Locker Room expose led to an uproar by students addressing open letters to their school authorities asking for the necessary steps to be taken to challenge activities that promote rape culture at an early stage targeting not just student sensitisation but also parents and teachers. My school was no exception.
After the letter was shared with the school authorities upon receiving support from 200+ students and alumni, the school responded by asking the main signatories to participate in an online webinar targeted towards, “mental health of adolescents and the need for psychosocial support during COVID and beyond.” While this is an important subject in today’s context, students felt that it was not an adequate response to the locker room situation or the proposals sent to the school in the open letter. As students, we reluctantly recognised the webinar as a first step and asked the school formally acknowledge the letter and confirm, as a promise, that the necessary steps would be taken in due course of time. To which our principal responded, “I am not answerable to students. I will not respond to the letter officially.”
As a member of the alumni, I was personally disappointed to see a school head claim that her students, alumni or otherwise, were not even deserving of a response. This went against my values and beliefs about how an institution that works with so many youngsters should be responding to such a situation. In order to take a stand, I decided to decline to participate in the webinar and making it clear that I would not work with a school that did not find it important to respond to its students request and instead take steps that were meant primarily for good PR and not to actually tackle the issue. Besides, if they could set up a webinar why couldn’t they set up a call to engage in dialogue with the signatories of the letter and see if this step was a fitting response?
The reason I am writing this is because in the thirteen years I have been a part of this school, I have never felt the need to claim that I am ashamed of it. Until this morning. This morning, our school’s most senior coordinators began to call any and all students they could reach asking them to name the students involved in writing the letter, taking the movement forward, sharing it online, and basically taking a stand against them. They also called for a meeting of current council body and for approximately two hours scolded, harassed, and humiliate the students who were involved. Other students who had also signed the letter were pressured into siding with the principal (in all likelihood due to the calls all morning and fear) as she bad mouthed students for taking a stand. The school went to the extent of calling the letter an act of defamation and further threatened the students by claiming they had the power to compromise their character certificates that each student receives upon graduating.
I had always expected a negative response from the school when the movement began, but what I didn’t expect was this level of predatory and authoritarian behaviour towards their own students. Their representative parental body is cherry picked to support the schools needs, demands for action are met with teachers who themselves perpetuate a number of stereotypes and make objectionable comments, and any act of defiance is met with anger and suppression. I can probably name at least 5-6 cases of harassment that unfolded among students and on the part of teachers in my batch alone, as I am sure many can.
This is of course my side of the story and there were many other calls, messages, and conversations unfolding among many parties. Unfortunately, I don’t think my school is the only one to have such an uncouth attitude towards its students. Having been head girl of my school in the past, I have seen its good sides and I have seen the ugly but never quite to this extent. I used to feel pride but this experience has lest little to no positive feelings toward the school. The only reason this movement will not move forward is because we all care too much for the students who were at the receiving end of this harassment by the school. We do not want to see our own juniors being pushed into situations that treated their mental well-being, a task my school seems to have aced.
In the end, I feel that I was able to stand up to them in my own way. I was no longer scared to tell them what I thought and that was beyond empowering for me. Even though my principal always said that posting such thought on an online platform would send the message to employers that I was not a loyal and committed employee, I feel it is the best way to find a place for yourself that values your voice and aligns with you values.
Why would anyone want to be associated with an institution that rests on ego and is threatened by 17 year olds demanding change? Why would anyone want to be associated with an institution that feels the need to harass its students to make them change their opinion? I know I wouldn’t.
I don’t feel anger or frustration at the response but I do have one recurring thought: Shame on you all.