Readers are strongly urged against misrepresenting the opinions stated below. The incidents alleged below are based on the testaments of victims and students of the institute. We have tried our best to ensure that no detail is skipped or misrepresented, however if you find any inconsistency, we would appreciate knowledge of that at the earliest.
Unless specifically stated, any external media coverage of this case is not endorsed by us.
An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak but impossible to remain silent.
— Edmund Burke
For a campus housing more than 10,000 students, IIT Bombay has been a peaceful place, save for the obvious election-time every year. Very rarely does an event occur in the institute, that stirs up the students enough for them to seek answers on some very fundamental issues and also to question the administration on its policies.
Over the past week, social media has been witness to disturbing revelations about a spate of alleged molestation incidents perpetrated by a final-year student. The student commanded respect and popularity amongst his juniors and was allegedly able to use that to take advantage of them. That this alleged assault happened to so many students, many of them in their first year and for such a long duration of time without them being able to seek any help doesn’t bode well for the campus environment. If true, it was a case of patent wrongdoing that has moved many to rage over the sheer number of victims and the repeated assaults they faced and the virtual lack of public information from any institute authority or student body.
Sexual Harassment and its manifestations in the Institute
In India, sexual harassment is still a taboo topic, especially when the perpetrator is known to the victim. The outlook is not very different inside the institute since most students have not been exposed to open and frank discussions about such a sensitive issue. Several harassment cases have an underlying power dynamic which can be brought upon by several factors. In the institute, this may take the form of a senior-junior relationship, an influential Position of Responsibility (PoR), or even a mentor-mentee or a student-TA (Teaching Assistant) relationship. Given a closed environment like ours, where most students live far away from their homes, very often they feel they don’t have anyone they can turn to for help and support.
As our institute had to, unfortunately, witnessed recently, the victims need not always be women. To put it in lucid terms, sexual harassment consists of any and all acts of unwanted sexual advances or remarks made against any person. In a society like ours, male students find it harder to come forward with their stories of sexual assault or harassment as they are often met with homophobia and an attempt to brush it under the carpet and move on. It is unfortunate for men in an educational environment like ours to have had to face what several innocent students allegedly faced at the hands of a trusted senior.
What are the issues?
1. The students didn’t know whom to approach
One of the victims of this case mentioned how, after the first assault he wanted to completely distance himself from the accused, but was afraid that if he avoided his assaulter, the incident would go public. He was worried that speaking out against the assault to make it stop would bring him more shame. Adding to the inevitable panic, this victim did not know whom to approach with the issue or what to do about it. He wasn’t aware of any Body that could deal with his claims anonymously.
It’s tragic that the victims felt that they had no option but to let the harassment continue through physical and verbal forms. They believed that they had no one in their corner who they could trust to deal with this issue without making it more painful for them. It also speaks to the lack of awareness about the channels that can help them. The fact that such channels could not produce an adequate sense of awareness or a sound relationship with the students triggered the horrific consequences of the assault.
2. Lack of transparency in the proceedings
In the past in IIT Bombay, we have had a student who, for the duplication of ID cards, has had his placement cancelled. In a lot of IITs, ragging juniors leads to the expulsion of the accused. Keeping that in mind, the apparent level of punishment that has been awarded in this case despite the numerous victims has been lamented by the student body as insufficient.
According to the rules of Disciplinary Action Committee mentioned on the Gymkhana website, for all major crimes the punishment should be one of the following :
- Withholding the degree of the students for some definite period of time.
- Deprival of hostel residence facility for a definite period of time.
The lack of explanation on what constitutes a serious crime might lead to lack of objectivity when pursuing cases of this magnitude.
There’s also a common sentiment among students that taking away a person’s PoR does little to punish him after he has been placed in a respectable company. There is a belief that simply taking away the tools that helped him exploit the students isn’t a sufficient punishment, and a more active route needs to be taken. It may also seem that just stripping the person of PoRs only protects the prestige of these positions without acknowledging that person’s accountability which is more deep-rooted than just their position in the campus.
However, even if we assume that the culprit has been punished sufficiently, the administration still should work towards making the victims feel heard. The fact that there was no Body to deal with these complaints when the alleged assault occurred meant that the identity of most victims was lost in anonymous groups and student gossip.
The students of the institute have been clamouring for a statement regarding the entire issue from the administration ever since the confessions started coming in. One thing is clear – students in the institute need to be assured that complaints will be taken seriously in cases like these and that the administration is willing to work with victims, in order to get them justice. This can be done by making the proceedings of the DAC more transparent. At least a public statement condemning what happened would acknowledge that a serious wrong was done on campus. Lack of any administrative statement makes the administration look unresponsive.
Are the proceedings of the DAC fair in this case?
We believe that in cases like these making the proceedings of DAC public, as has been mentioned in the DAC rules (“The DAC shall make the proceedings of the inquiry available if required, once the decision has been made”) would help to redressme.co.nz/ball-dresses.html”>dressme.co.nz/ball-dressme.co.nz/ball-dresses.html”>dresses.html”>dressme.co.nz/ball-dresses.html”>dress the situation. Transparency would help the students understand the reasoning behind the decision. This becomes especially important when we are dealing with cases of assault because when other lives are impacted, the matter doesn’t remain between just the administration and the alleged culprit, it now grows to encompass the future of the other students whose lives were impacted. If the alleged perpetrator had assaulted people outside of the institute, he would have faced legal repercussions and perhaps much more serious consequences and that would have impacted his future prospects severely. If, in the institute, the victims don’t see their assaulters being punished in line with the penal code, the very least we owe them is transparency with regards to the exact punishment awarded and the reasoning behind it and perhaps even a platform to have their grievances heard. Transparency may lead to criticism of the decision itself, but this would only strengthen the mechanism of punishment. It would serve as a better deterrent in the future, which should be the long-term goal. If people aren’t well informed, they will not trust the administration.
We also think that the administration needs to note that unlike disciplinary wrongdoings involving an individual person, (like substance abuse, forging IDs, etc.), interpersonal cases like sexual harassment, physical abuse etc. directly affect other students, wherein transparency and strict action becomes even more imperative.
Do we need an improved redressme.co.nz/ball-dresses.html”>dressme.co.nz/ball-dressme.co.nz/ball-dresses.html”>dresses.html”>dressme.co.nz/ball-dresses.html”>dressal mechanism for cases of harassment?
This case begs us to start thinking of how our institute will deal with such cases in the future. The Women’s Cell is currently the only body that handles complaints of sexual harassment and does so only in the case of female victims. This invalidates the experience of a male victim, leaving them with no appropriate forum to lodge their complaints with. Forced to put their testaments on anonymous confession pages, their battle for justice seems to be pushed forward by bursts of public concern, rather than a systematic investigation by the administration. Even in the criminal statutes, the only provision to deal with sexual assault on male victims (more than 18 years old) is Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which is infamous for not even mentioning consent.
We believe that the Institute must take this opportunity to set up an Anti-harassment Cell to deal with cases of assault and harassment in the cyberspace as well as otherwise, in a swift, just, and gender-neutral manner. This will provide all students of the campus with an assurance of safety – one that is currently restricted to female students only.
The Role Of Student Bodies in this case :
While institution and rules are important in influencing what happens on campus, the lived realities of the many victims, in this case, calls for an introspection that goes beyond the considerations of reputation and begs a look at how the holders of PoRs influence students, especially freshmen. In the wake of concerns like the one the institute has recently faced, it is natural for members of the student community to start losing faith in the institute bodies.
While it is easy to brand PoR holders as disgraceful and all selection procedures as rigged, it is imperative in times like these to understand that the majority of the representatives of these bodies should not be discredited by the misdeeds of a few offenders.
Relevant bodies should now reflect upon what more they could have done to have avoided this. The main aim of every Body needs to be the minimisation of the possibility of this happening again while at the same time working to be more approachable by the students. Students should not have to resort to anonymous posts on a Facebook page, in order to have their grievances heard.
What can we as individuals do?
While everyone is overwhelmed by the tortuous maze of happenings, debates, outcries, and battles for justice, we need to remind ourselves that issues like these are also sensitive to our individual attitudes and responses. The victims of these molestations are going through a personal period of trauma. We need to treat this issue in as sensitive a manner as possible, keeping in mind that these are real lives that we’re talking about.
As clichéd as it sounds, some of the actions we take on a personal level can help such situations. One of the first things we can all try our best to do is create a healthy atmosphere and work towards eliminating the taboo surrounding the issue. We must also be careful about the stories that we believe and spread. Raging issues like this can turn even the simplest of speculations about any actor involved into Chinese whispers involving thousands of students. Not only does this worsen things, it tampers with the dignity of the victims and inevitably hampers any efforts by student bodies to help them. We need to make sure that people are safe and at ease to discuss the topic, as part of this healthy atmosphere. We have to deal with these issues without hesitating and treat them the same way we treat any other incident. This can help potential victims who haven’t yet come forward, to muster the strength to share their feelings with trusted and responsible people. In a world that is very quick to point fingers at everybody, it is important for every person to have dependable friends and confidants. The simple act of lending a listening ear and a helping hand to whoever wants them would go a very long way.
We should recognise the need to educate ourselves and those around us on the topics of acceptance of one’s sexuality by people, including self. Regardless of gender or sexual orientation, molestation and harassment are still heinous acts. Perhaps most importantly though, we need to start establishing a culture of consent. It is a good idea to always take explicit approval of the other party before you make any move which may affect them. Especially when you have some kind of an upper hand either due to your position or age, you have to understand that they may not immediately express their discomfort, due to the power dynamics that are often at play. From a society that equates silence to approval, let us move towards one where only a ‘Yes’ means ‘Yes’.
Ultimately, it is we students, teachers, friends and colleagues who have to work towards making sure that what has happened in campus till now will never repeat itself, and even if it does, that we will be there for those in need and help them cope with it through strength, courage, and determination. Given that freshmen will arrive on campus within a month, it would be in our collective best interest to welcome them without any fear of their safety. Hopefully the next time we have a freshmen orientation, the ideas of consent and the gender neutral nature of sexual harassment will be freely discussed.
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