New Delhi: The science community has not been immune to the #MeToo movement that picked up speed in India in October. This month, a PhD student at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, had complained that a senior academic had sexually harassed her.
According to reports, an internal committee took immediate cognisance of the complaint and stressed that “IISc has always taken strong action”. The woman had alleged that the professor had made several sexually coloured remarks and relentless phone calls to her late at night.
The professor against whom the allegations have been made, who cannot be named because of IISc’s internal policy, has a doctoral degree from the US and is a recipient of the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for Science and Technology, and is a J.C. Bose National Fellow.
“He is listed among the top 1% of scientists by the (research platform) ISI Web of Knowledge and is serving in senior editorial capacities across several top-rated science journals,” an Economic Times report said.
The academic at the centre of the storm in the prestigious institute has been associated with IISc since 1998. According to ET, his scientific work has “resulted in more than 500 publications, 15,000 citations and an h-index of 55, the highest among all engineering faculty in India”.
When members of the council were contacted, a few reportedly said that the decision on the issue had been taken almost two weeks ago, but they refused to divulge what action would be taken.
Under the service rules of the central government (Rule 11 of Central Civil Services Classification Control and Appeal Rules), which also governs disciplinary action against IISc employees for sexual harassment, disciplinary action includes removal and dismissal from service among the most stringent penalties in cases where sexual harassment is proven.
In its 2017 policy statement on preventing and prohibiting sexual harassment at the workplace, IISc states that it “believes that all its students deserve an education without fear from discrimination and sexual harassment, in order for their education to be more effective and valuable”.
The PhD scholar’s complaint has not been the solitary one in the science community, which for years, because of the tilt in the gender balance, has been plagued by a culture of silence. As The Print reported, Nandita Jayaraj and Aashima Dogra, the co-founders of The Life of Science, created a Google document last week to circulate around the scientific community so that anyone who has been harassed or abused can offer their accounts anonymously.
Over 20 people answered the questionnaire with their accounts over three days. “These stories in our inbox range from an unwelcome sexist comment to actual dangerous situations women find themselves in,” Jayaraj told The Print. “Most of the time, the perpetrator is a senior or a guide, holding a position of power over the women who are desperate to not lose their career.”
“Women have seemingly resigned to this and normalised it, feeling grateful that they were just molested and not raped,” she said. “It feels like justice is too much to ask for when they want to be successful.”