Abuse, Apology, Inaction: Stephen’s Molestation Victim’s Tell-All
Stephen’s molestation victim tells the The Quint about the abuse, the apology and the inaction of the college.
A yellowing newspaper clipping pretty much summarises the journey of the St. Stephen’s molestation victim who has accused her professor, Satish Kumar of sexual harassment.
The Story of Small Town Brilliance
It is an old news report that appeared in a Hindi daily shortly after the woman became one of four students from her school to have secured a merit position in class 12 senior secondary exams. A black-and-white picture of her teenaged self stares back – eyes clear, focused.
Her eyes brimming with pride, she recalls, “The two of us in the middle were Science students; the other two were from Arts. It was such a happy moment.”
Displaying a keen interest in studies since childhood, she would persist in going to school with her siblings even though teachers insisted that she was “too young”.
Till 8th standard, she attended the local government school in the village. When she demanded – in class 9 – to be sent to Badshahpur town, six kilometres away, for want of better facilities, her family was at first shocked.
I knew my younger daughter loved studying. But I am myself only a 10th pass. I had joined the Army and later worked in Haryana Roadways. My wife is illiterate. So, it was difficult for us. But then, we decided to send her anyways. Day and night, she buried herself in books. There was no tuition, nothing.
In the coming years, she burnt the midnight oil, so to say. It was only in class 12 that she took coaching for important subjects, travelling daily in government buses to nearby Gurgaon.
From Government Girls’ School, Badshahpur to St Stephen’s College, New Delhi
She subsequently graduated from the Government Girls’ School in Badshahpur with merit and took admission in Delhi University in 2005 – becoming the first girl from her village to have joined DU.
After completing her B.Sc (Physical Sciences) and M.Sc (Chemistry) from Ramjas college, the woman enrolled herself for a PhD in Chemistry in October 2012. She is the only person till date from entire Teekli to pursue a PhD.
The Tale of the Abuse
Initially, all went well. But during summer vacations, Prof Kumar began verbally assaulting me. He would talk of love, sex, affairs. From July to October 2013, there were several occasions when he inappropriately touched me.
The sexual overtones in Kumar’s behaviour became increasingly pronounced. The last straw came on October 15 that year she says when he sexually assaulted her, grabbing her body and groping her private parts.
When the victim tried to run away in a shared auto to her rented rooms in Mukherjee Nagar near North Campus, Kumar allegedly chased her. “He kept saying sorry and asked me to sit in his car but I refused.”
Her roommate was the first to know of the incident. The victim then called her sister, who arrived in Delhi the very next day.
They did not want to stress the mother, so the incident was kept a secret from her. The cultural ethos is such that they could not talk directly to the father. Though he was not told everything in detail, he has an idea about the nature of the incident.
— Anju, Victim’s lawyer
Apology with a Vengeance
In a meeting with the victim’s family days after the incident, Prof Kumar reportedly apologised for his behaviour and promised that it would not be repeated. Feeling that their main aim and purpose was the woman’s education, the family believed him.
Hamein vishwas tha vo dobara aisa nahi karega (We believed that he wouldn’t do it again)
However, the victim claims her PhD work began suffering after that. Each time she sought Kumar’s help with her doubts, he would reportedly turn her away.
Somehow, I managed the theoretical part on my own. For the computational data, one needs help from the mentor. However, my repeated requests to him for guidance had no impact.
When she was selected in May 2014 for an international conference to be held in Canada, she needed her PhD mentor’s signatures to receive funding from agencies.
He did sign the documents, but only after I was completely mentally harassed and exhausted.
I was also selected for an international fellowship in Germany for a ‘sandwich PhD’. I was required to study one year there and the German supervisor had approved my proposal. But Prof Kumar did not co-operate and as a result, I could not go.
Brazen Inaction at Delhi’s Top College
The first ever written complaint in the matter was filed with the Head of the Chemistry department at Delhi University in October 2014 – almost a year after the incident had happened. Interestingly, no action has been taken on the complaint so far.
We could have changed my supervisor. But I was told that I would have to restart all my work as the work under the previous mentor would not be admissible. How can any student accept this? It’s like playing with my career.
A second complaint was submitted but Thampu forwarded only the cover letter to the Internal Complaints’ Committee (ICC). He then advised that the family should let him handle the matter, and not go to the police or the ICC with the complaint.
He (Thampu) said it would lead to ‘badnaami’ of my character and the college. He said that Prof Kumar is disabled and uses an artificial leg and a crutch to walk, so we should be sympathetic towards him.
Thampu also insisted that the victim give in writing that the ‘case should not be treated as a sexual harassment case and that, the principal had intervened in the matter’. She was also forced to withdraw her first complaint “or else, the PhD could be jeopardized.”
The incident has now left the victim’s family in a lurch.
“She was the first girl from the village to go to Delhi and study; she went to Canada for that conference. Other students in Teekli see her as a role model. But this incident proves we were right. Dilli ka mahaul kharab hai. Tabhi toh koi apni betiyon ko yahan padhne nahi bhejna chahta. Ab sab yahi kahenge humein ki aur bhejo ladki ko bahar padhne,” her father said. “We used to think teachers are gods. But in this city, even teachers can be predators.”
While lawyers Anju and Sunil Mathew prepare to fight the case in the court, the incident has not deterred the victim yet.
When it happened, I felt weak. But slowly, I gathered strength. I realised my dreams are too high. I want to pursue a post-doctorate from a university abroad and pursue a career in academics. I suffered so much but kept bearing everything, because for me, education is the most important thing.
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