A complaint of sexual assault lodged by a 30-year-old PhD scholar residing at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras in 2021 is gathering dust, as the Chennai police have failed to proceed on the case. A year after the complaint was lodged, the police have not even registered the FIR with appropriate sections as they completely omitted the section related to rape. Speaking to TNM, All India Democratic Womenâ€™s Association (AIDWA) state general secretary Suganthi said that neither rape charges nor SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act were invoked by the police for a year and no arrests made.
The survivor, a Dalit woman who hails from another state, had filed a police complaint with the Mylapore All Women Police, on March 29, 2021 accusing Kingshuk Debsharma, her fellow scholar, of raping her, and seven others of harassment. She had also sent petitions to the National Commission for Women, SC/ST Commission and others. The woman in her detailed complaint also said that she was subjected to severe body shaming, sexual harassment and rape within the IIT-M campus. However, despite her complaint alleging rape, the First Information Report was registered only in June 2021. An FIR was registered under 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) of the Indian Penal Code.
â€śThe FIR does not take rape charges into account, it also did not invoke SC/ST Actâ€ť, pointed out Suganthi. According to the FIR accessed by TNM, the survivor alleges rape, sexual harassment, threats, emotional manipulation, gaslighting amidst others.
A police personnel TNM spoke to claimed that they were not aware of her caste and therefore did not invoke the SC/ST Act. This investigating officer further claimed that the decision to not include rape charge was based on legal advice.
Kavitha Gajendran, who is the AIDWA Chepauk-Triplicane area president dismissed these claims and said that the student had mentioned her caste even in her letters to various Commissions. â€śIt took three months to file an FIR and according to her the police gave her no hope that the case would be taken seriously. The survivor told us that the investigating officer would not respond to her calls or messages. The behavior of the police is clear, they wanted the survivor to tire out. The survivor also says that this officer believed the manâ€™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. More importantly, how could the police not know that she was a Dalit? They used diluted sections deliberately,â€ť Kavitha told TNM.
Inaction by the police was however not the first roadblock that the survivor faced, added AIDWA. According to the survivor, the incidents of harassment and assault happened between July 14, 2016 and March 30, 2020. In July 2020, she approached the Internal Committee (IC) or Complaint Committee Against Sexual Harassment (CCASH) of IIT-Madras.
â€śThe survivor had filed a complaint with the IC and an interim report was submitted by the IC stating that four persons were found to have harassed her. The report had further barred three students from entering the campus till she submitted her thesis. However, they continued to be present inside the campus. She was harassed and bullied academically. She was not allowed inside the lab or given access to necessary equipment,â€ť Suganthi said.
The interim report by the IC on October 8, 2020, said that Kingshuk had beaten the survivor, verbally abused her and physically abused her twice. It also concluded that two other PhD scholars and a post-doctoral fellow, sexually abused her (verbal abuse). These three men were also found guilty of helping Kingshuk on various occasions. This included locking her in a room with him and restricting her from accessing the lab.
According to the minutes of the interim report accessed by TNM, the IC held meetings via google meet nine times, after the survivorâ€™s complaint, in 2020. The report also states that â€śit takes a lot of courage and trauma for a young PhD student to report such incidents to CCASH especially when she has been cornered.â€ť
Stating that the committee would like to postpone further investigation until the survivor submits her thesis â€śowing to her vulnerable positionâ€ť, the committee made interim recommendations â€“ including that none of the students will be permitted inside the campus until she submits her thesis. The committee had also asked the guides to ensure that the respondents do not submit their thesis until the survivor does. However, there was no recommendation made to file a police complaint and the committee did not give its final report either. Seeing the four accused on campus, the survivor then decided to approach the police.
Meanwhile, IIT Madras has stated that the institution has followed all processes for investigating the matter of the student who has raised the matter of sexual harassment. â€śThe matter was forwarded to CCASH (Complaints Committee Against Sexual Harassment) for investigation. According to the student, the incidents happened in 2018 and 2019 and she brought it to the notice of IIT Madras in August 2020. The institute immediately forwarded the matter to CCASH for investigation,â€ť IIT-M said in a statement. Further, it also added that IIT-M has been cooperating with the investigating authorities, and that the institute has extended all support to her during the external investigation.