The lurking Hydes of research institutes
‘Sexual predators likely among faculty’
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.