Interview

Interview – Team Himmat : An Initiative to Provide legal assistance & awareness to college going survivors of Sexual harassment

Megha Rana Ray (Founder) and Sreeja Sengupta (Chief Legal Officer) 

 

   Interview with Team Himmat

  1. Tell us about your Initiative Himmat?  And the work that it does? 

Himmat is an initiative to equip survivors of sexual harassment with the support and knowledge required to tackle institutional proceedings in colleges.

Fighting a case, especially as a student, can be a really daunting process due to the existing lack of information about rights and remedies available to survivors, the legal process they must undergo and the possible legal and social ramifications of their complaint. This makes the prospect of winning a case seem bleak justice appears inaccessible. This in turn contributes to an environment where survivors feel apprehensive in reporting cases of sexual harassment which eventually leads to our colleges being unsafe spaces for students.

Through our initiative, we aim to combat these issues by both- spreading awareness regarding rights of students and providing free legal consultancy services to students in an attempt to make the process less intimidating for them. Our website contains all the basic information for filing a complaint with the institutional committees, rights and recourses available to survivors and much more. We are also in the process of building a network of experts in this field, including lawyers, activists and external members of Internal Committees, whose guidance and counsel can be used to provide free legal consultancy services to survivors who need assistance. We want to ensure that each survivor has the opportunity to access the knowledge required to take informed decisions while pursuing/deciding to pursue an institutional case and seek advice for their specific circumstances.

 

  1. What inspired you to start Himmat? 

Megha Rana Ray (Founder of Himmat and 4th year student at WBNUJS):

From my own experience in filing and pursuing sexual harassment complaints, I realized how there is information asymmetry in colleges about the law surrounding the issue of sexual harassment. This gives the administrations a lot of leeway while dealing with cases as they can do as they please. It occurred to me that while educating students and equipping them to pursue their complaints may not entirely solve the problem, it could still go a long way in empowering students to fight for their rights and seek justice. I am hoping this will also have a ripple effect and make administrations more accountable in protecting the rights and providing redressal to students.

  1. How is your team planning to help College Students with your website www.safecollegespace.com? 

Our website is developed on a two-prong approach to help combat the problem of information asymmetry regarding sexual harassment in colleges– an awareness program and free legal consultancy service.

In order to spread awareness, our website has all the basic information regarding filing a complaint, who to approach with the complaint, what the Internal Committee procedure entails, general tips on evidence submission. We have a section devoted to the rights and recourse available to a survivor. Additionally, our website hosts a blog to spread awareness about the existing legal position, any contemporary developments in the field.

Our website will also be the medium through which survivors can seek free legal consultancy services. This is still work in progress and we will notify when the free legal consultancy services are launched.

  1. Does your Initiative address inequality in College Campuses? Tell us how.

Yes Definitely. Inequality manifests in many disturbing forms in college campuses, the act of sexual harassment itself is a form of oppression, resulting from the unequal dynamics between various groups. The UGC guidelines also acknowledge that various vulnerable groups are more prone to acts of sexual harassment. Rather than attaching a strict definition to ‘vulnerable group’, it is recognized that vulnerability can be socially compounded by different factors such as region, caste, sexual orientation etc.

To combat the inequality, we hope that our initiative can help survivors from all kinds of backgrounds fight for justice in order to make colleges a safer space. We acknowledge that inequality is not merely binary and will do our part in sensitizing ourselves as well along the way so that we can accommodate and cater to multiple perspectives.

  1. How do you measure the success of Himmat Initiative? 

As an initiative which has just begun, the overwhelming support and interest from people who resonate with our cause and have gotten in touch with us is heartwarming.

If the success of the Himmat Initiative is to be measured, it would be by the number of people we are able to reach and empower into fighting to change unsafe college spaces and the survivors of sexual harassment that we are able to aid through our awareness and free legal consultancy program.

  1. What are the biggest challenges of starting and running a not for Profit  Initiative? 

As college students starting a not for profit initiative, we have definitely faced certain challenges. Apart from the usual challenges of lack of capital and infrastructure, it also took us a while to gather support for pro bono work and come up with a multidisciplinary team of dedicated individuals who are willing to work single-mindedly for a cause.

Additionally, the cause in itself is often tabooed, to break those barriers and start a conversation around this issue in colleges is very difficult; sensitizing ourselves and other people on the issue is a constant process since we want to be able handle this issue as sensitively and correctly as possible. Law in this field is also relatively new and constantly evolving so have to be up to date. As college students sometimes it gets tough having to manage our curriculum and internships alongside however our passion for the cause keeps us going. We are also very lucky to have received a lot of support from our alumni and faculty, their advice and encouragement keeps us motivated.

  1. What are the 3 things you’d exclusive tell a Girl about safety in College Campuses?  
  1. Except your explicit consent, nothing else qualifies as ‘signals’ or ‘leading on’ someone no matter what others tell you.
  2. Reach out to people you trust when you feel like somebody is making you uncomfortable or is a potential threat to your safety.
  3. It is of paramount importance that women work towards creating safe spaces for women so they can open up to each other. Do not discount anyone’s account just because of any pre-conceived notions. Do not let factors like friend groups or batch politics affect your stance. There is immense strength in solidarity

 

8. What plans do you have for the future? 

The plan has always been the same. It is to create a relationship of trust with survivors who reach out to us. We hope we can be there for them and help them make an informed choice about whatever recourse they wish to take.

9. How could those interested find out more about your Initiative? How can people Join and contribute towards your Initiative? 

In order to find out more about our initiative you can visit our website www.safecollegespace.com

We are also on Instagram and Twitter as @teamhimmat.

We are looking to expand our team with like-minded individuals, so if you’re interested in collaborating and have worked in similar issues or spaces, kindly send us an email at himmat@safecollegespace.com outlining your prior experience and why you’re interested in joining us. We’d love to hear back from you.

Our website also hosts a blog to create awareness about contemporary developments in the field and if you are willing to contribute you can send in articles not exceeding 1500 words on our abovementioned email id.

If you want to share your own experience with us, be it through poems, artwork or personal accounts, you can reach out to us on our email id or Instagram handle.

We urge you to spread the word, by sharing our initiative on social media, and within your friend circles, to ensure it reaches those who need it the most!

  1. Any other message you would want to provide or talk about? 

The most important things we would tell a survivor would be-

  • Do not blame yourself no matter what other people may tell you. Your experience is not theirs to comment on. Only you are the custodian of your own reality.
  • You are not alone. Reach out to your support systems whether within or outside college. Sometimes you may even find comfort and support from those you least expected. Don’t cut yourself off from people. Even if it seems like the whole world is against you and you cannot reach out to those you considered close, consider taking professional help to deal with your trauma if need be.
  • There’s no right or wrong choice of recourse. What action you chose to take against your perpetrator is your decision alone. While others may give you advice or suggestions, if you feel that you would be better off without filing an official complaint and going for therapy sessions to overcome your trauma, that does not make you any less brave than you already are for surviving through such an experience.

Team Himmat :

Megha Rana Ray (Founder)

Megha Rana, 4th year at West Bengal University of Juridical Sciences, founder of the Himmat initiative.

Interests: She is the Founder of the HIMMAT initiative and over the years, has helped students in sexual harassment proceedings.

Megha is student body nominated and trained member of the support committee of NUJS

The committee provides support to students for internal committee proceedings and also observes and facilitates the proceedings. She has also served as as a fest coordinator of Para-Invicta: a one of a kind pan-India sports fest for specially abled children and law students which aims at fostering a sense of inclusivity in the field of sports

                                                                                                                  

 Sreeja Sengupta (Chief Legal Officer) 

Sreeja Sengupta: 4th year at West Bengal University of Juridical Sciences, chief legal officer of the Himmat initiative.

Interest: Sreeja is the Chief Legal Officer of HIMMAT. She takes a keen interest in social initiatives. She is the Team leader of the West Bengal Chapter of Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access to Legal Education (IDIA) which is a national initiative focused on making legal education more inclusive and accessible to underprivileged and disabled students through a range of strategies including sensitization, training students to prepare for law entrance exams, financial aid before and during law school and mentorship, amongst others.

Sreeja has also been a part of an initiative of the Legal aid Society to spread awareness about human trafficking in rural areas of West Bengal.

#teamhimmat #safecollegespace #NUJS #Sexualharassment #Interview #MeghaRanaRay #SreejaSengupta

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