news Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - 05:30

By Rupali Mehra

The News Minute | March 10, 2015

"Let's be clear: India is not a country of rapists", Michael Steiner, the ambassador from the embassy of the German Republic in New Delhi, wrote in a strongly worded letter to Dr Annette Beck-Sickinger, after an Indian male student claimed that the professor at the University of Leipzig in Germany denied him an internship because of the "the rape problem in India".

The incident came to light when a person claiming to be the student’s friend uploaded screen shots on Quora, of  emails sent by professor Annette G. Beck-Sickinger of Biochemistry and Bio-organic Chemistry. Social media saw outrage over the incident with people taking to various platforms to share their view on the incident:

Dear Professor Annette Beck-Sickinger,

I write to you about the controversy generated over the rejection of an Indian student's candidature to intern at your department of Biochemistry in the University of Leipzig.

My open letter is not over the denial of admission, but on the basis of which the Indian student was rejected.

You say you "don’t accept any Indian male students for internships because of the rape problem in India, that you cannot support".

The student in question is not asking you to support the "rape problem". He is asking for an equal opportunity to intern at your university based on his academic credentials.

Yes, India has been shaken by violent rape cases, the most horrific in recent times, the gang-rape and murder of a student in a bus in Delhi. At the bottom of it is a complex, deep rooted patriarchal attitude among some sections of our society. But professor, not all Indian men are rapists on the prowl. Tarnishing all men with the same brush is an affront not just to them but our country as a whole.

Picture yourself for a moment as a student applying to a university in India. What if you received a reply rejecting your candidature on the basis of neo-Nazi racism in Germany. Sounds ludicrous, doesn't it. But if you recollect, barely 14 months ago the German government announced a further probe into 746 unsolved killings and attempted murders, while suggesting that they could have "neo-Nazis motives". And lets not forget the multiple targeted murders by the horrific National Socialist Underground.

Should all German students be rejected on the basis of a few rotten eggs? If not, then the same logic applies for Indian students as well. Every country is grappling its own set of problems - war, terror, crime, factionalism, inequality and poverty. But shutting the door on individuals from that nation is a highly blinkered approach.

Your comments have not just triggered an uproar in India, but angered many of your own. The German Ambassador has tweeted on your 'unfair judgement', and even written to you to correct your "oversimplistic and discriminating generalization".

Following his letter, you have reportedly apologised.

If statistics is what you by then the U.N Crime Trends survey has put the United States of America the the nation with the highest number of reported rapes. India, although third because of the sheer number of reported cases is ranked far lower than the U.S, Australia and several European nations in terms of percentage. (1.8 reported rapes per 100,000 population compared to 27.3 in the U.S).

By the same yardstick then, no student from the U.S should be interning under you. But is the issue a "rape problem" as you cite in your rejection letter, or is it a deep rooted prejudice. Because this is not the first time professor, you have been accused of rejecting an Indian male student citing the same reason.

If this is true Professor Beck-Sickinger, your attitude unfortunately reeks not just of parochialism, but borders on xenophobia. Education is meant to be the greatest equalizer. It is meant to break down traditional barriers. For an academician like you to have such preconceived notions goes against the very grain of education.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the famous German writer and philosopher said, "Nothing is more terrible than ignorance in action" (Es ist nichts schrecklicher als eine tätige Unwissenheit).

Professor Beck-Sickinger, I suggest you pay a visit to India and get a first hand experience of the country and its people. India is not just about rapes and crime against women, as you seem to suggest. Perhaps it will help you rethink your position.

As for the two students you rejected, my advice to them for now would be - they are better off not researching under a professor whose ignorance speaks for itself.

With regards,

An Indian female

Rupali

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