In the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, a young postgraduate medical student of SV Medical College in Tirupati has committed suicide. Even though on an average one student commits suicide every hour in India, the young medico’s death raises multiple questions. Three months ago, the said student, according to a report, had complained to the Governor ESL Narasimhan in writing that she was “being sexually harassed by three professors from the Paediatric department.”
However, the college had taken cognisance of the matter and had formed a committee in May this year, and the inquiry was still underway at the time of the medico’s death. The student’s relatives, however, allege that even before the committee could submit its report, the accused professors had gone to the media and described the student as “mentally unsound.” The student had recently told her friends that she had been deliberately failed in exams for reporting sexual harassment against the professors.
Sexual harassment in academic spaces was hardly ever reported until very recently. The past few years have seen protests and sustained campaigns at various universities and colleges in India. Just a few days ago, TISS Hyderabad students were protesting against harassment of three women near the hostel.
However, more importantly, it is not only harassment per se that causes outrage. Most of the times it is the absence of any genuine redressal measures that drive the victims to take extreme measures. In most of the cases, the harassers go unpunished and later try to avenge those who report the cases of sexual harassment in the first place. This creates a dangerous space where no one is ready to report harassment for fear of undue and unjust reprisal. A lot of times the harassers coming from positions of power in academia are protected by the college and university administrations.