Wednesday 26 July 2017

PhD scholar speaks out on alleged sexual harassment by IIT Bhubaneswar professor

I am giving you the following information regarding sexual harassment at a work place in a national level institute, IIT, which led to the de-registration of me and my husband from the PhD programme on account of sexual harassment.

At that time, I was the only female student in our professor’s laboratory. From day one, I noticed a difference in the way he behaved with me. However, he always used to say I was like his daughter. My soon to be husband joined IIT Bhubaneshwar as a PhD scholar under the same professor in January 2012. He and I got married in November 2012.

After I got married, I could slowly see the ill-intentions of the professor regarding me and other female students in the lab. When he came to know about my pregnancy, he intentionally started to physically and mentally torture me and my husband. He used to force me to use the staircase to go to the lab on the 4th floor. According to him, it was good for my health in that condition. He made comments on my husband’s body language, speaking style, etc. He said that my husband did not behave like a student. However, in reality, he used to interfere in my personal life which was not acceptable to my husband and he’d protest against it.

He said that he came to know about my pregnancy only two months before the delivery. Yet, at such an advanced stage, he pressurized us to shift near the laboratory in the name of convenience, so that I could do research and spend more time in the laboratory, especially the odd times. I was well aware of his intentions and did not entertain the issue.

I took a six-month maternity leave in 2013, as per the PhD regulations in India and also according to the CSIR, JRF and SRF guidelines. But after three months or so, the professor, acting as the Dean R&D at that time, stopped my fellowship. He blamed it on the pending money from the sponsoring agency – CSIR.

After stopping my fellowship, he insisted that I join the laboratory as soon as possible before the end of my leave. I must also mention that the professor always asked me to not apply for any kind of leave.

In my absence, the professor tortured my husband both physically as well as mentally. He would ask him to work more as he was the only male student at that time. The work he’d make my husband do was not even related to academics. It was more like a clerk or peon’s work.

The actual intention of the professor was to keep all the female students near him to fulfil his sexual desires and to push my husband away from the laboratory. He had also suggested that my husband give me a divorce as I was a working woman and would not be able to take care of my family well. All these issues were creating immense pressure on my husband and he was getting more depressed by the day.

Due to all this, I decided to join before my maternity leave ended. The professor saw that I was not able to spend more time (8 am-8 pm) because of my baby. So, he pressured me again to stay near the institute. But all his efforts went in vain as I refused once again.

When he failed to keep me in front of him, he increased the torture on my husband. It went to such an extent that in June 2014, my husband got a brain stroke and had to get operated at the age of 28.

The professor assumed that my husband would not be able to come back to his normal self. So at that time, he behaved in a godlike way with me and assured to help in every way. However, everything changed once my husband recovered and joined in the research work after only two months or so.

My husband’s presence was not welcomed by our professor. He had instructed him to stay away from the other lab mates (three female students including me) to ensure a ‘good environment’. He assumed that my husband would resign from the PhD programme. But instead, my husband started his research work in full swing. To destruct him from his goal, the professor started his mental torture again. He had been admitted to the hospital again, in March 2015.

I always tried to prevent any interaction between my husband and professor as it had a harmful effect on my husband’s health. He also started to avoid him as much as possible. The intention of our professor was clear to us. My aim was to complete our thesis as soon as possible and be free of him.

However, the harassment went on. He called me during odd hours, made a registry for attendance (which was torn by him only after one month or so as our attendance was good). The professor also suggested me to divorce my husband and proposed to send him to an ashram. Not only this, he also assured me that he will give me ₹10,000 a month as I may face difficulties in my life due to the absence of my husband.

When all his tricks did not work, he started to blackmail me in the name of my husband’s degree. He clearly passed the message to me and later to the other lab members that he would not give a degree to my husband. He even tried to stop his semester registration in January 2016 but the Doctoral Advisory Committee (DAC) allowed him as they did not find any problem with his research work.

The professor thought that if he could terrorise me on the basis of my husband’s degree, I would give in to his demands. I tried to get a temporary leave from the PhD programme to stay away from him. But the DAC members didn’t let me because they did not understand the intention of the person.

The DAC asked me to submit a synopsis, which is actually the pre-PhD. report at IIT. In the pressure of DAC, the professor allowed my synopsis to be submitted, which was appreciated by the DAC and other students of the school in the month of June 2016.

After the synopsis report submission, as per the rules of IIT, the scholar has to submit the thesis within 60 days. I submitted my thesis at the professor’s desk for the final correction, which he delayed intentionally and asked me to make an application to Dean of Academics to extend the time of 60 days to 90 days.

During this period, the professor wanted me to have frequent meetings with him in his office at odd hours, which I strongly refused. After that, he tried to create trouble for me from various ways. This was reflected in his denial to sign on my husband’s registration papers in July 2016. He conveyed to the Head of the School, School of Basic Sciences, IIT Bhubaneswar that he will not sign my husband’s thesis under any circumstance.

The harassment reached to such an extent that I was forced to lodge a complaint to the National Women Commission (NCW), Odisha State Women Commission (OSCW), Women Grievance and Redressal Committee (WGRC) and the Internal Complaints Committee. But IIT found it suitable to investigate the matter through the Internal Complaints Committee where not even a single person was up to the rank of a professor and the investigation proceeded with the accused, keeping in mind his influential position.

In the meantime, the head of the school called a meeting with the DAC, my husband and I. In the meeting, the head of the school proposed that my husband leave IIT Bhubaneswar with all the work he had done till date. We protested against this as he spent four vital years of his career at IIT. He had completed his coursework and research work with the requisite number of publications and was fully prepared to submit his thesis. The head of the school kept the case on hold since things didn’t go according to our professor’s wish. He later forwarded it to the Dean of Academics.

After a number of queries put in front of my husband in August 2016, the Dean of Academics asked him to submit the detailed research report for judgment of the status of the thesis. But this act was illegal as the tenure of the PhD in IIT is for eight years and it is unfair to ask for a report after four and half years.

Simultaneously, the professor found serious problems in my thesis and asked me to get more data. However, in this regard, the person said

(i) I had the data but was not submitting it intentionally.

(ii) I did not work hard enough to get a degree from IIT Bhubaneswar.

This made the DAC, myself and others stunned. In one meeting with the DAC and the Dean of Faculty of Planning at IIT Bhubaneshwar, I was called. The meeting was also recorded. Each of the members got the actual picture about the false information provided by the professor on my thesis and as a result, the other DAC members resigned from the DAC post on the issue of unethical behaviour of the supervisor.

In October 2016, my husband was told that his case was forwarded to the Research Programme Evaluation Committee (RPEC), IIT Bhubaneswar. From there, it was forwarded to the senate and it was decided to cancel the registration of the scholar. My husband was directly intimated by the office order of cancellation of his PhD registration in February 2017, without any prior notice.

Finally, after 10 months or so, the IIT authority asked me to do a semester registration under the accused person, which was not acceptable due to the sexual harassment. harassment. I had shared my ordeal with the National Commission for Women and other committees.

I also forwarded my concern about a full-time government employee (as I got a government job at that time) cannot do registration in any full-time course. As per the norms of the PhD of IIT Bhubaneshwar, if the student gets a job during their PhD tenure, and if they want, they can be allowed a temporary leave for a maximum of 12 months. I had applied for the leave in the month of December.

Also, despite our sincere desire to change the supervisor before the higher authorities, IIT did not take any action. Ultimately, as a measure of punishment to raise objection against the professor, both my husband and I became victims of the Professor and IIT. Without changing my supervisor, IIT cancelled my PhD registration as well, in June 2017. As expected, IIT did not find the person to be guilty.

However, I repeatedly conveyed my message to the committees on the unfair investigation.

The behaviour of the professor to a woman, a couple of bright students and finally to a family harm the society and this land in many ways such as:

1. Our country missed two PhD degrees although the government paid us the necessary stipend to use our brain in research.
2. Such instances are examples of why there have been an increase in the suicide of IITians.

This issue is intimated till date with-
1. To the Prime Minister of India.
2. Ministry of Human Resources (MHRD) through letter and mail.
3. Ministry of Women & Child Development (MoWCD)
4. Chief Minister of Odisha.
5. Chief Minister of West Bengal.
6. National Commission for Women (NCW).
7. National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
8. Odisha State Women Commission.
9. The Director & Deans of other IITs in this land.
10. Council of Science & Industrial Research (CSIR), Govt. of India.
11. University Grants Commission (UGC), Govt. of India.
12. The Board of Governors, IIT Bhubaneswar.
13. Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), IIT Bhubaneswar
14. Women Grievance and Redressal Committee (WGRC), IIT Bhubaneswar.

All the information obtained till date from IIT Bhubaneswar by a number of petitions through RTI Act, 2005.

My Appeal to IIT Bhubaneswar:

1. The case of sexual harassment must be re-investigated as I am not at all satisfied with the outcome of the ICC. The intention and capability of the ICC to give proper justice were made clear to me at the first meeting with them in which one of the members terrorised me on account of complaining to them.

2. IIT has to give the PhD degree to me and my husband without any hassle by making a neutral panel of referees and judge the thesis accordingly.

3. The person must be removed from any important post like Dean, Head of the School, etc. of an institute like IIT where a number of good students are coming to fulfil their dreams.

4. It needs stringent and exemplary action by IIT Bhubaneswar, which will set an example to other staff to not dare to sexually harass at IIT Bhubaneswar. The Internal Complaints Committee of IIT Bhubaneswar did not follow the principle of natural justice read with the Doctrine of Audi Alterem Partem and with the opportunity of being heard as well as the Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation.

It is my earnest request to all of you not only to help a woman get justice for her and her family against sexual harassment but also unethical practices going on by the administration of an international level institute of our country by spreading the issue nationwide.

Editor’s Note: According to a Times of India report, IIT Bhubaneswar has rejected the allegations based on the ICC findings. IIT Bhubaneswar Director RV Rajakumar said that they had followed appropriate rules and had wasted no time in instituting a probe when the allegation came.

Rajakumar told TOI that the de-registration of the PhDs of the woman and her husband had nothing to do with the allegation. According to him, her husband could not satisfy the research programme evaluation committee (RPEC) with the progress of his research in October 2016.

(Source: YKA)

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