CBI probe sought into students’ issue at Madras university

A fact-finding team has sought a CBI inquiry into the alleged sexual assault of a woman student and the manhandling of a head of department at the University of Madras.

The issue pertains to a group of students from the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, who failed in the semester exams, the results of which were declared in February. Since then, the students have been trying to get the university to address their grievance.

The situation got out of control on March 16 when a fracas erupted in which a professor, who was also in charge of the department, was manhandled. The woman student alleged that during the incident, he touched her inappropriately. She also submitted a complaint to the University Grants Commission and the police.

Four students of the department had failed in a few subjects. They claimed that they were deliberately declared fail in a subject taught by a guest lecturer. Their grievance was addressed by the department in-charge J. Soundararajan, following the intervention of the registrar, N. Mathivanan, to whom they had made a representation.

Their papers were revaluated by a retired professor from Bharathidasan University. However, two of the students failed even in the revaluation.

The issue escalated as the students began heckling Mr. Soundararajan. On March 16, the students who had failed, along with the woman student, allegedly barged into the professor’s office when an online seminar was under way and harassed him over their results. Mr. Soundararajan decided to seek the registrar’s help, but with the latter having left his office for an event, he returned to the department.

Those interviewed by the committee included administrative staff, a research scholar and technical staff in the department. The interviewees said the students gheraoed the professor and, at one point, they grabbed his clothes, demanding an apology.

C. Lakshmanan, a professor at the Madras Institute of Developmental Studies and convener of the Dalit Intellectual Collective, which sent the team, said certain issues required further investigation. “We wanted to know what the procedure was for announcing the results; whether the procedure for releasing the results was adhered to; why the students didn’t go to the dean, and instead chose to protest and approach the registrar; why the registrar overruled the syndicate’s recommendation and awarded marks in violation of UGC norms; why the registrar opted to proceed to a sports function when the head of a department was seeking help to solve trouble in his office; and why the university didn’t mention anything about the assault on the woman or the commotion in the department when it revoked the suspension of the students,” he said.

The university had a clear mechanism to address sexual harassment and yet, the woman student chose to file a police complaint, he pointed out. Such an incident should not happen again at a university of good standing. Only a free and fair investigation will provide answers,” he added.

The committee comprises six persons, including two women. Two of them are expected to issue separate dissent notes.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 10:18:46 AM |

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