Misogyny and Privilege: A Tale from St. Stephen’s College

St. Stephen’s College has a history of trying to protect its own when it comes to sexual harassment charges. 

2 min read
(Photo Courtesy: <a href="http://www.ststephens.edu/index.htm">St. Stephens College</a>)

A 27-year-old PhD scholar has filed a complaint with Delhi Police, against Dr. Satish Kumar, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, and Bursar, St. Stephen’s College. The complaint alleges systematic harassment and intimidation, both physical and verbal, over a period of three years.

The complaint also states that the Principal, Valson Thampu, discouraged her from filing a sexual harassment complaint.

Thampu has denied the allegation and said that since she is a PhD scholar, he has no power over the issue, and asked her to refer the case to the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC).

The victim, however, said that she had no faith in the committee. The way in which the mechanisms to address sexual harassment in the college have been systematically defanged by the current administration seems to confirm her instincts.

Rev. Valson Thampu has said that the victim did not want the case matter treated as a “case of sexual harassment”. (Photo: ANI screengrab)
Rev. Valson Thampu has said that the victim did not want the case matter treated as a “case of sexual harassment”. (Photo: ANI screengrab)

The ‘Defanging’ of the Sexual Harassment Committee

A senior professor at St. Stephen’s, who preferred not to be named, recalled how, in its initial avatar, the Sexual Harassment Committee was a composite body with both teachers and students as members.

“Also, the recommendations of the committee were supposed to be binding on the Principal,” said the Professor, who was then a member of the committee.

However, these provisions were abandoned as soon as they were put to the test. In December 2007, a Sanskrit Professor, Dr CB Jha was found guilty by the committee, and several punitive measures, including a reduction of two increments, were recommended.

Most of the recommendations were ignored and all he was asked to do was sign a “bond of good behaviour”. Subsequently, according to sources within St. Stephen’s, the ICC has become a body which is filled with “yes-men” and there are no students in the committee.

Power and Entitlement

“Professors enjoy a considerable amount of power over students, even more so when they are PhD scholars,” says RS Nanda, a teacher in the Philosophy Department.

PhD candidates spend years trying to get a doctorate and their prospects depend largely on their ‘advisor’. In the case of male professors and female students, this is further complicated by the inherently unequal nature of gender relations. Committees and the law can only act after an incident has occurred, but gender sensitisation is possibly the only way to check such occurrences.

What’s really needed is advocacy and sensitisation for the faculty.
RS Nanda, Department of Philosophy, St. Stephen’s College

(The Quint tried to get in touch with the Principal of St. Stephen’s College, at the time of the writing of this article, we have received no response)

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