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IIT-Madras Students 'Feel Unsafe' After Incident of Sexual Assault Gets Reported

Many students stated that moral policing “contributes to institutionalising patriarchy and cannot be tolerated.”

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A worker at the college canteen was arrested on Tuesday, 2 August for allegedly sexually assaulting a student on the premises of Indian Institute of Madras (IIT-M). He has been booked under the Sections 354 (Assault to outrage the modesty of a woman). He has been produced at the Saidapet judicial magistrate and is in police custody.

The incident of sexual assault that took place on 26 July led to a cascading effect with several students sharing similar experiences.

On the night of 24 July, a woman student was returning to her hostel on her cycle, when she was allegedly sexually assaulted by an unknown man, near New Academic Complex (NAC) in IIT-M. The friend of the survivor filed a complaint and mailed the Dean of Students office and all the students, apprising them of the situation.

“After a long terrifying struggle she managed to fight him off and ran back injured and mentally scarred, with a broken cycle. It is through sheer luck that my friend managed to escape this vile encounter which could have ended much worse,” read the letter.

However, on 27 June, the response to this email from the Dean triggered a rebuttal from the students. The email from the dean's office, accessed by The Quint, also listed “certain protocols” to be followed “meticulously” by students to ensure their own safety.

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‘Quite Challenging To Maintain Safety on Campus Spread Over 600+ Acres’: Dean

The survivor’s friend’s mail described the incident and also stated that the students felt uncertain about their safety.

“It was horrifying to hear of this incident and the rest of us students feel very uncertain of our safety on premises. Such incidents are a stain on the reputation of such a prestigious college that prides itself on the standards of safety it supposedly upholds,” it read.

The dean in his reply stated that the security team that was intimated of the incident on 26 July, was undertaking a thorough investigation.

In a response to The Quint, the institute's media cell shared a statement on 1 August that read, "We immediately began the investigation, screened camera footage and shared pictures of almost 300 people, who matched the description given by the student."

The Dean had instructed that the students should inform the laboratory in charge or obtain permission to visit labs outside working hours and avail the bus service if they were returning late from study.

The mail also mentioned a "buddy system," asking students to move inside campus at night with friends which “would be safe in case of any untoward incident/accident.”

“It is quite challenging to maintain safety/security on campus spread over 600+ acres and with a large forest area, all of us can work together and assist the security staff to overcome the challenges.”
Mail from DOST

In a response to The Quint, the institute detailed that security guards are stationed every 100 meters.

A research scholar questioned how this would be possible as it was “really unavoidable to work late at night in the lab.”

‘Do We Have to Stop Thinking About Our Research When the Sun Goes Down?': IIT-M Student

A third year student of IIT-M told The Quint that while “incidents of assault and harassment on campus are quite rare, many of them have been policed to not venture outdoors.”

A student had responded in the same mail trail that a day after the incident of sexual assault, she and her friend were sitting at Gajendra Circle when a security guard had approached them.

“Told us to leave the premise and return to hostel in the light of the recent incident of sexual harassment stating that it is unsafe for women to be out at night. Instead of taking measures to prevent such kind of incidents and holding perpetrators accountable, why are they moral policing and restricting the movement of female students in the campus?”
IIT-M Student

Many slammed this moral policing stating that it “contributes to institutionalising patriarchy and cannot be tolerated.”

“It is not always possible to be accompanied by friends. Can I move outside like a citizen of a free country or do we have to hide ourselves inside the girls hostel and stop thinking about our research when the sun goes down?” asked a student.
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Students Demand Safe Access to Academic Zone

A group of student representatives collectively expressed their opinion that this was “not a stray case” as a similar incident took place a few months back.

They appealed to the management to ensure that construction in the hostel zone must be restricted to the day time and there must be strict supervision, especially at night.

“IITM has always been an institute that never sleeps and we need safe access to their academic zone study spaces and Centre for Innovation (CFI) at night to ensure safety,” it read.

Devan, a member of ChintaBar, a collective of students in IIT Madras that engages in discussions on socially, economically and politically relevant topics, told The Quint, "The institute needs to increase security to such an extent that at least a cry for help must be heard by someone. Such incidents should not happen again. Everyone should have the freedom to walk around without worrying about safety."

“We want this so that all of us students could still be just as we are, but just as safe as we all want to be.”
IIT-M Student

Just a few days ago, IIT-M was ranked the best higher education institution in the country in the overall category and was ranked second only to the Indian Institute of Science in research.

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