Sexual harassment
In a phone conversation with four students, the professor says offers them an ‘opportunity’ in return for academic and financial support.

An audio clip that allegedly exposes a Tamil Nadu professor's attempt to lure female students into sex work has sent shock waves across the state. A faculty member of the Devanga Arts college in Virudhunagar, who has been linked to the telephonic conversation has been suspended after four female students, who were on the receiving end of the 'offer' complained to higher authorities.

The college has further initiated an inquiry into the allegations.

In the clip of a telephonic conversation, which lasts for close to 19 minutes, Nirmala Devi, an assistant professor associated to the Mathematics Department is heard telling the women, whose identities have not been made public, that an 'opportunity' has come their way. And that they are expected to do certain things 'secretly' for a very senior official of the Madurai Kamaraj University (MKU) to which the college is affiliated.

In return for their cooperation Nirmala Devi tells them, "On the academic side, I can take the four of you to a big level, I can assure you that. He is that big an official. I will make sure that your marks are not affected. You will get financial support and academic support also. I don't know if you will tell your parents or not. We will open an account for you and will put money for you."

When the students ask her to elaborate on what needs to be done, she says, "In order to finish some things successfully they are expecting college students. Till now, I have not gone down to that level. I can only say so much. I believe you will understand what they expect. If you accept this scheme, MKU will be your backbone."

She further threatens them by saying that if the news were to come out, the girls will be subjected to negative comments. But she claims that agreeing to this 'opportunity' will take them to a 'big level'.

When the students repeatedly reject this offer, it falls on the deaf ears of the professor. 

One of them says, "We are not interested and not willing to talk about it further."

When the professor offers them part-time jobs as well, a student says, "We don’t want to study further. We want to join government posts.”

On hearing this, the professor then claims, " You are small children. Even to get a Vice Chancellor post you will need political influence. For TNPC paper evaluation also you need. You all just think again. I will speak to you next week. They have an important assignment next week and so there was a requirement. That is why I am asking now. Otherwise, I wasn’t planning to bring this up till you are in the third year. You won’t get another opportunity like this. You think about it again."

At one point in the conversation, the professor even claims to have access to the ‘Governor’.

And when the students continue to reject her offer, she finally says, "I am going to the next level. I just wanted to take you with me."

‘Attempt to malign varsity’s reputation’

When TNM contacted college authorities, they admitted that the four students came up with a complaint against Nirmala Devi on March 19. 

"We took down the report and immediately contacted the professor. She was away for some course but she was made to come back to college immediately. We then suspended her and she remains suspended till now," says Ramasamy, principal in-charge of the college. "We don't know who exactly the higher authorities she is referring to is. We have to check the veracity of the complaint. She has to reply to the allegations and then an investigative committee will be initiated," he adds. 

The professor in question, Nirmala Devi herself has admitted that it is her voice in the clipping but claims that the offer has been misconstrued by students and denies that she lured them into sex work. 

The Vice-Chancellor of Madurai Kamaraj University, to which the college is affiliated, has meanwhile said on Sunday that the issue was an attempt to malign the reputation of the varsity and its officials. He has also commented on the professor constant’s mention of 'higher officials' being involved. 

“Any person can misuse anybody’s name. That does not mean it is true. If we receive a complaint on the incident, I will direct the University Registrar to file a police complaint," he has told The Hindu

Meanwhile, PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss on Monday demanded the arrest of the college professor.

In a statement issued in Chennai, Ramadoss also demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the episode.

"The shocked poor students were heard saying in a broken voice that they are not interested in the proposal. Undeterred, the professor tells the students that if they agree to the proposal then the students can achieve anything relating to their course," Ramadoss said.

Ramadoss said the professor's mobile phone call records should be checked to determine the others involved in the episode.

He said suspending the professor only for 15 days was not enough.

(With IANS inputs)