Video Editor: Kunal Mehra
Cameraperson: Abhay Sharma
'First, you sexually assault us'
'Then, you harass us with false complaints'
'Is all this justified just because we are from JNU?'
Is protesting against sexual harassment wrong?'
More than three weeks since the JNU Long March, 24-year-old Sheena Thakur's life is trudging back to normalcy.
A former student of sociology at the university, Thakur felt strongly about the issues for which the protest was called on 23 March – demanding action against professor Atul Johri, accused of sexual harassment by eight students, raising their voice against the autonomous status granted to the university, and opposing compulsory attendance rules.
But what should have been a peaceful protest in the era of the #MeToo movement turned into a nightmare for Thakur, as she became a victim of harassment herself.
With the police clashing with the 1,000-odd students and teachers during the protests, the 24-year-old found herself in the middle of the frenzy, being groped and assaulted by policewomen. The incident was captured on camera, and Thakur shared the photos and videos on Facebook, which eventually went "viral".
And things only got worse in the aftermath, as the police, ironically, filed a complaint against Thakur and fellow protesters for assault and rioting on 24 March.
The 24-year-old hailing from a village in Himachal Pradesh's Kullu is now faced with the prospect of being arrested anytime in the near future.
‘I Heard Them Say ‘Kapde Phaado’’
Calling the complaint against her "fake", and one just to "intimidate" the students, Thakur appears unflinching when she recounts her ordeal to The Quint
Before my assault, there was no women police at the site. So we were being manhandled by the male police. And when the women police came, they first politely asked us to move back. But suddenly, they started beating us up and tearing off my clothes. I couldn’t actually believe it when I heard them say, ‘Kapde phaado’ (Tear off her clothes).Sheena Thakur
Thakur claims that following the chaos at the INA locality in south Delhi , the protesters were taken to a police station, where officials started threatening and abusing them.
"At the police station, they gave us clothes because they wanted to photograph us. I actually got this T-shirt that I am wearing right now from the Delhi police, because I didn't have any clothes on," Thakur says, managing a smile.
With Not Much Support to Count On, Thakur Finds Herself Running From Pillar to Post
Finding herself embroiled in the legal procedures and frequently doing the rounds of the Supreme Court to meet a lawyer after the police filed the complaint, Thakur says that while most of the people she knows were ready to give her informal support and offer some legal advice, getting someone to actually fight for their case proved to be arduous task.
She also directs her grouse against the JNU Students' Union (JNUSU) and JNU Teachers' Association (JNUTA), saying:
There were other parties who were involved in this case like the JNUTA and JNUSU. And this is the first time I am saying this openly – they were the ones who organised the march and we thought they had taken permission for it. So, it was also supposed to be their responsibility to come forward and help us, which they did not. That really demotivated and scared us.Sheena Thakur
For Thakur, who has been a regular at various agitations over the years, the 'Long March' was a different one, precisely because of the scale and intensity of the crackdown by the police.
However, she asserts that the harrowing experience won't deter her from protesting in the future, though she would make an effort to stay away from any conflict with the police.
Her desire to question "the state" still seems to be running strong, as she asks:
I have just one question from the government. What message do you want to give to the women of this country? Should they not speak up? Should they stop coming out on the streets? Because if we look at what is happening to us, this seems to be the reality. So please stop asking for votes in the name of women empowerment.