Moral policing in IIT Madras: Student shamed for hugging her friend on campus

When Tara* demanded action against a staff member who took photos and videos of her hugging her friend, she was subjected to more moral policing.
Moral policing in IIT Madras: Student shamed for hugging her friend on campus
Moral policing in IIT Madras: Student shamed for hugging her friend on campus

In a clear case of moral policing, a woman student at IIT Madras has been at the receiving end of harassment from a staff member of the institute and the police for hugging a male friend on campus. A staff from the Applied Mechanics department took photos and videos of the two, claiming that it was to show them that that their acts were ‘immoral’.

The incident happened on April 17. 

But complaints to the security officers and even higher officials were ignored as they claimed that the issue raised by the two students, Tara* (19) and Vikram* (22) was ‘not a priority’. In fact, according to Tara, one of the higher officials even told the complainants to focus on their studies as the institute cannot keep a check on the actions of every individual on its premises. This despite the students alleging a flagrant violation of their privacy.

“Vikram and I were hugging outside the canteen and talking. There was this guy who was clicking pictures and videos of us. He said he was doing it for his safety and the safety of his children because we were immoral or whatever,” Tara tells TNM. “He was secretly clicking pictures and I noticed him. He said such outrageous things. His argument was completely absurd. He got flustered, gave his staff id card and left the place. It’s illegal to click pictures of people and it’s a breach of privacy,” she adds.

The staffer, who has been identified as UdayKumar of the Applied Mechanics department, allegedly refused to delete the pictures and videos on his phone when confronted by the students. He further told the students that he had done this before and denied any wrongdoing on his part.

When Tara first approached the Chief Security Officer, he attempted to dismiss the matter. “The CSO initially said this wasn’t high priority, he had other things to do. They kept brushing it under the carpet. They didn’t do anything,” she says.

Students then rallied in support of Tara and Vikram and protested outside the admin block to push the management into confiscating the staffer’s phone. But this was allegedly after he’d been let go for an entire hour on the pretext of ‘important work’ in his department. This, Tara believes, would have given him enough time to share the material with others.

“We feared it (videos and photos) being circulated on the internet and cyber crimes and so on. Thus, because they said they can’t help, we had no other option but to go the police,” says Tara. A complaint was filed at the Adyar police station and the Chief Security Officer was told to bring the confiscated phone the next day.

The Dean of Students, meanwhile, told her to go home and not let the incident affect her, but did not reprimand the staff member.

“The DoSt told me to concentrate on my studies now that he had done all that he could do, and that he can’t ensure my safety because he has no control over most things. He says he has no control over others’ actions. He told me to go home and not let it mentally affect me. He said that because I was from the Humanities department I should understand that social growth is organic and slow and not like engineering where it escalates immediately,” says Tara.

The next day, the videos and pictures were deleted. 

“They made me delete the videos myself and collected his phone from him for 3 days. They gave him a warning and let him off. There were 2 videos,” says the 19-year-old.

When TNM contacted the Assistant Commissioner of Police in Adyar, he confirmed that the incident had taken place but said that no complaint was filed.

“We warned the accused and the images and videos were deleted. The complainant was satisfied,” says the officer.

Tara, however, claims otherwise and says she requested a restraining order against the staffer but the police did not take appropriate action.

Even at the station, the students were subjected to more moral policing. “The women police gave them some friendly advice about not wearing shorts and not indulging in such public displays of affection. In the course of the enquiry, the lady officer told them not to behave in this way. She told the girl to stay safely inside the room and dress properly when they come out,” defends the officer.

Tara has now been left disappointed and angry over the lack of sensitivity with which the incident has been handled. She told TNM that students are planning to put forth a list of demands to prevent further such cases. 

This includes, “Suspension or appropriate action against the perpetrator, taking into account that he himself claimed to have committed the act multiple times prior to this particular incident, an apology from the perpetrator (for taking pictures without consent with the admitted intent of publishing it and tarnishing reputations) and the security section (for the mishandling of the case, and engaging in victim-blaming), an official statement from the institute to the announce list (GSB, staff and residents), condemning the act of the perpetrator (with his name and the way it was handled by the administration), written assurance that incidents of this nature will not occur in the campus in future, and, if it does, appropriate procedure will be followed, gender sensitisation workshops (including sessions against moral policing and victim-blaming) for all staff and security, and training for the security section on how to respond to reports of sexual harassment.”

The IIT management was not available for comment on the incident and the demands. 

* Names changed

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