A 31-year-old student from Madras University has alleged that she was sexually harassed by her Head of Department (HoD) in front of other students in his office on March 16. She also said that an official enquiry into the incident had shamed her, while attempting to protect the HOD. On Sunday, the student was rushed to the hospital after she hurt herself in a bathroom in the institute. Speaking to TNM, she said that she took the extreme move after the enquiry by the internal complaints committee (ICC).
The sexual harassment allegedly took place on March 16 when the the survivor and four male students approached the HoD over discrepancies in their semester exam scores. They alleged that due to previous protests they had conducted over hostel fees, the university had deliberately failed them. Upon re-evaluation however, the students all received scores above the pass-mark. They were allegedly in conversation with the HoD regarding this, when the female student was harassed.
The survivor says that as they were talking, he came and touched her inappropriately while pushing her. "He then abused me and said I am powerless to do anything against. He pushed me on my chest at least three more times even though I strongly objected to his touching me. The HoD even pushed one of the male students who was with me when he tried to stop him," she adds.
The five students then began protesting within the university campus against the harassment when the HoD refused to apologise despite repeated demands.
The survivor complained to the university's sexual harassment cell on March 17, after which she called for an enquiry by the internal complaints committee. On March 18, when she attended the enquiry however, she alleges the committee was biased.
"They questioned my character and asked why I was protesting and sleeping on campus with the boys in my class. They kept saying that the HoD would have touched me by mistake and tried to dismiss my claims," says the survivor. The committee, she says, refused to hear her version of events fully. "They didn't conduct enquiries with the witnesses properly either, claiming lack of time," she alleges.
The student added that this allegedly dismissive attitude pushed her to hurt herself on Sunday. In addition to this, all five of them were suspended on Saturday by the university.
"The HoD has filed a complaint against us but the University is not telling exactly what the complaint is," says one of the male students who was present during the alleged sexual harassment. "The police are refusing to take a complaint and are asking us to deal with the matter internally. But the university officials are supporting the HoD without taking our point of view into consideration," he adds.
TNM has reached out to the University registrar for his comment on the matter.