By Esha Paul and Urmi Bhattacheryya
When two women journalists with The Quint recently went to the Delhi University's North Campus for a story on the ambiguity of sexual consent, little did they know that they'd end up in a police station for asking "sharmnaak" questions on sex to legally adult persons.
The following is their account of the incident, which was first published on The Quint and is being reproduced on TNM with their permission.
The story we were pursuing was for a campaign The Quint has spearheaded, called #MakeOutInIndia – an open celebration of sex and sexuality, without any euphemisms attached.
We went out with a set of questions like: “If your partner is drunk and says yes to sex, but then passes out while you’re about to have sex – is it okay to proceed to have sex with them?”
Two students agreed to come on camera to answer our questions, once they heard what the video was about.Suddenly, a person declaring himself as a DUSU member said we couldn’t be shooting there without his permission.
When told this was a public road of an open campus, and hence the Delhi University Student’s Union had no authority over the area, the young started making phone calls and soon a group of five men arrived on the spot.
“I’m the DUSU President,” one of the new arrivals declared; he had a sash around his neck that said ABVP. This was Satender Awana, whose campaign slogans included the gem “Fortuner me rawana Satender Awana”.
What started as an argument about space suddenly became an argument about morality. The guy who first questioned us told his friends that we were asking immoral, “sex-waale” questions to “innocent bystanders”. “Arey, ek ladki toh mooh chhupake bhaag gayi (One girl hid her face in shame and ran away),” he added.
The DUSU president then hurled a number of imprecations at us, which amounted to one thing – that we were asking girls, who were “someone’s sister, and daughter”, to talk about their sex lives.
Satender Awana, campaigning during the 2015 DUSU elections. (Photo: Facebook/Satender Awana Abvp II)
“If these recordings are played in public, imagine how these girls’ future would be affected!” they argued, “Their marriage would break off and their relatives would disown them.”
Our questionnaire was shown to him. It was about ambiguous sexual consent, and not about anybody’s personal sex lives. They snatched our questionnaire and roughed up our cameraman.
We were called a variety of names – ranging from “corrupt” to people who clearly had sex freely, and were trying to talk about it “khulle mein” (openly).
The two students whom we spoke with initially. Do they look unwilling? (Photo: The Quint)
When we tried to leave, they stopped us, again. “We’ve called the Station House Officer (SHO). You can’t leave.”
“Sex karne ka bahut shouq hai na tumhe (You love having sex, don’t you),” they told us.
One of them then declared, “We haven’t called the girls! Let’s bring them down here” – clearly indicating that the women ‘dignitaries’ of DUSU were also being called to be the women-against-women tool.
In came Anjali Rana, the DUSU treasurer, and Priya Sharma, another DU student. By this time, a police van arrived and a bunch of cops surrounded us.
Sharma claimed that she was “coerced” into answering our questions. We had never seen these women before, leave alone quizzed them on sexual consent.
Feeling hapless, we requested a senior cop to take us to a quiet spot where we could tell him our version. He refused.
SHO Arti Sharma, who arrived next at the scene, was a godsend. We were taken to a police station. “I’m well aware of the issues these guys raise”, she added.
When we reached the thana, the DUSU boys (and the two girls) were already waiting.
Satender Awana (L), Priya Sharma (R) threatening to file a complaint against the two journalists for ‘corrupting’ the DU campus. (Photo: The Quint)
Once we entered SHO Sharma’s cabin, she shut them up immediately, reminding them that we live in the 21st century where we have the right to talk about sex.
In the meantime, two teachers from Miranda House, Deepika Tandon and Saswati Sengupta arrived at the station. Their help was sorely needed since they knew the DU laws better than we did, and could counter every baseless argument.
“They didn’t take our permission,” the DUSU President said.
“They don’t have to, it’s an open campus, and no by-law gives you the right to stop them,” the teachers retorted.
“They can’t ask such dirty inappropriate questions on the road,” he roared.
“Who are you to decide what is appropriate and what’s not,” the teachers countered, stating that the people questioned were all adults.
Satender Awana (R) arguing with Saswati Sengupta (L) on the DU by-laws. (Photo: The Quint)
“I have sisters in every college – these women cannot ask my sisters such questions.”
“They all have the freedom of speech. So why can’t students decide for themselves whether they want to answer questions about sex?,” SHO Sharma shot back.
Once this banal exchange was over, we headed out of the room on SHO Sharma’s suggestion, who somehow managed to pacify them and end this matter.
Satender Awana (L), Priya Sharma (second from L), Anjali Rana (third from L) being schooled by SHO Arti Sharma (extreme R) (Photo: The Quint)
While we waited at the thana for our cab, the DUSU bunch stood across the gate, sending us death stares.
This incident is exactly why we need a campaign like #MakeOutInIndia – which highlights that questions on sex are not shameful, but necessary. And where women talking about sex aren’t somebody’s “sisters and daughters”, whose marriage prospects are at stake, but brave and free-thinking individuals.
This is an edited version of the article. Read the full piece here.