The lurk­ing Hy­des of re­search in­sti­tutes

‘Sex­ual preda­tors likely among fac­ulty’

The Hindu - - NATION - Shubashree De­sikan

Re­cently, an on­line pe­ti­tion was ini­ti­ated by Sus­nata Kar­makar, a PhD Stu­dent at the In­dian In­sti­tute for Sci­ence Ed­u­ca­tion and Re­search (IISER), Kolkata, re­gard­ing a sex­ual ha­rass­ment case in the in­sti­tute. The pe­ti­tion de­mands ac­tion against an ad­viser to a PhD can­di­date for mak­ing sex­ual ad­vances on the stu­dent. The in­ci­dent hap­pened on Septem­ber 4 and a com­plaint was made ten days later.

When The Hindu con­tacted Sourav Pal, Di­rec­tor, IISER, Kolkata, for a re­sponse, Bhaswati Bhowmik, Pub­lic Re­la­tions Of­fi­cer, wrote back: “The mat­ter is be­ing dealt with se­ri­ously at the ap­pro­pri­ate level as per GoI reg­u­la­tions.” Mr. Kar­makar’s pe­ti­tion states that the par­tic­u­lar fac­ulty mem­ber may have en­gaged in such be­hav­iour in the past.

Re­luc­tance to pun­ish

In an­other case, Marie (name changed), a post-doc­toral fel­low at the Har­ishchan­dra Re­search In­sti­tute (HRI), Al­la­habad, com­plained to the ICC that the fac­ulty mem­ber was en­gag­ing in in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour. On in­ves­ti­gat­ing, the com­mit­tee found her com­plaints gen­uine, and also that the fac­ulty mem­ber had mis­be­haved with many girl stu­dents ear­lier, mostly short-term vis­i­tors who had left with­out com­plain­ing, said a source at the in­sti­tute who has knowl­edge of the case. “We need to spot such be­hav­iour early on and can­not turn a blind eye. While one in­stance could be missed, and the sec­ond may only be halfspot­ted, we can­not al­low it to pass [say] 30 times,” says P Balaram, for­mer di­rec­tor of the In­dian In­sti­tute of Sci­ence.

The di­rec­tor of HRI, Pi­naki Ma­jum­dar said “There are grades of ha­rass­ment and, in this case, it was im­plicit be­cause of the power in­equal­ity. The per­son who has more power needs to act and speak with care. The post-doc has left the in­sti­tute and the coun­cil rep­ri­manded the fac­ulty mem­ber. We are hold­ing meet­ings where a lawyer ex­plains to mem­bers what sex­ual ha­rass­ment is and what’s done and what’s not done.”

There have been cases where the in­sti­tute is re­luc­tant to let go of its il­lus­tri­ous “Jekyll-and-Hyde” fac­ulty mem­ber even if he has been found guilty of sex­ual ha­rass­ment. “Even if he [the per­pe­tra­tor] is an ex­tremely pro­duc­tive and a brilliant sci­en­tist, if he has acted in­ap­pro­pri­ately, pub­lic ac­knowl­edge­ment of his wrong-do­ing is nec­es­sary. If a per­son can­not be re­moved, for what­ever rea­son, we might have to per­suade these in­sti­tutes to is­sue a pub­lic apol­ogy of some kind," says V. Geetha, fem­i­nist and his­to­rian who has served on com­plaints com­mit­tees.

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