One Year Since IIT Madras Scholar's Sexual Harassment Complaint, No Progress in Case

The AIDWA has accused the city police of irregularities and delays in its handling of the case, saying it should be transferred to CB-CID.

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New Delhi: The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) has sought for the case of a 30-year-old woman PhD scholar from IIT-Madras, in which she accused a fellow scholar of rape and others of harassment, to be transferred to the Central Bureau of the Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID).

The AIDWA has accused the city police of irregularities and delays in its handling of the case, which was filed nearly one year ago, on March 29, 2021. It has also sought action against the officer in charge of the investigation.

The scholar had filed her complaint with the Mylapore All Women Police in which she had accused fellow scholar Kingshuk Debsharma of raping her and had accused several others, including scholars as well as faculty, of repeatedly harassing her within and beyond the institution since she joined in 2016.

She had also sent petitions to the National Commission for Women (NCW), SC/ST Commission and other such bodies. According to news agency PTI, the police only registered the FIR after the intervention of the NCW.

Moreover, in the first information report (FIR) registered against eight people (including main accused Debsharma) by the police in July 2021, no charges of rape (under Indian Penal Code Section 375) were included. Despite the complainant being from the Dalit community, no sections under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (SC/ST Act) were invoked.

According to a report by The News Minute, the FIR was registered under IPC Sections 354 (assault of criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 354B (assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe), 354C (voyeurism) and 506(1) (punishment for criminal intimidation).

Also read: Internal Panel Finds IIT Madras Professor Guilty of Sexual Harassment

Long history of harassment

According to the complainant, she had been repeatedly harassed, both physically and verbally, since she had joined the institution in 2016. 

Before approaching the police, the scholar had filed a complaint with the Internal Complaints Committee Against Sexual Harassment (CCASH) of IIT Madras on July 17, 2020. 

In the complaint, she alleged that Debsharma physically assaulted her twice – once in a college lab and again during a trip to Coorg; prevented her from using lab equipment; along with other scholars and even a professor, made ‘vulgar’ remarks about her and made her feel uncomfortable; and even got another professor to not offer her time slots on certain instruments that she needed for her work.

She submitted online depositions to the CCASH on nine occasions, between July and September 2021. Following this, the CCASH made an interim recommendation to restrain her three fellow scholars – including Debsharma – from entering the campus until the complainant completed her PhD work and submitted her thesis. 

Moreover, the CCASH recommended that the three accused not be allowed to submit their theses until the complainant submits hers and postponed further investigation until her thesis is submitted.

Notably, the recommendations made no mention of filing a police report and no final report was prepared. After seeing the accused continue to be in the institution despite the CCASH recommendations, the complainant decided to approach the police.

Also read: Survey of 500 Women Finds 1 in 10 Had Been Sexually Assaulted in Higher Education Institutions

AIDWA intervention

AIDWA Tamil Nadu president S. Valentina and secretary P. Suganthi took on the case, noting that the accused were being treated too leniently for such heinous accusations.

“The full process does not seem to have been completed. The police filed a FIR, arranged for her deposition before a magistrate and had issued summons to the accused by mail,” they said, urging the CCASH not to postpone the investigation.

Valentina and Suganthi also said that the complainant alleged that the main accused forcibly took photos of her, yet, despite several requests, no investigation was undertaken regarding the photos.

Moreover, noting that the investigation and recommendations were based solely on online depositions, the two AIDWA members said that the process should be conducted in person, given the seriousness of the charges.

Kavitha Gajendran, AIDWA Chepauk-Triplicane area president, further detailed the ordeal the victim had to go through with the police. Speaking to The News Minute, Gajendran said the complainant alleged that the investigating officer refused to take her calls and gave her “no hope that the case would be taken seriously.”

“The behaviour of the police is clear, they wanted the survivor to tire out. The survivor also says that this officer believed the man’s version and eventually they all got bail. The police were hand in glove to make sure she leaves the campus without creating any more trouble, “ Gajendran continued.

No arrests have been made as of yet.

Meanwhile, IIT-Madras issued a statement saying that it “followed all processes” in investigating the complainant’s sexual harassment claims. 

 “The institute immediately forwarded the matter to CCASH for investigation. We are cooperating with the investigating authorities. The institute has also extended all support to her during the external investigation, even after her scholarship period ended,” the statement read.

“We empathise with the student and will support her through this,” it concluded.

(With PTI inputs)