JNU Students Speak Out: “No Secret That Atul Johri Was a Harasser”
Video Editors: Purnendu Pritam & Ashutosh Bhardwaj
"Bachegi Beti Tabhi Toh Padegi Beti" (Only if she lives, can the girl child study)
"Johri Hatao, Beti Bachao" (Suspend Johri, save girls)
"Jab Tak Todhenge Nahi, Tab Tak Chodenge Nahi" (We’ll not let this go until you take action.)
Students scream these slogans as they line up outside the Vice Chancellor's M Jagadesh Kumar's office in Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
Simultaneously, guards line up outside the door that leads to the VC's office. Students are told that the vice chancellor is "busy" and "does not have the time to meet students".
About a week ago, a professor from the School of Life Sciences (SLS), Atul Johri was accused of sexual harassment by seven different students and one former student of the department. The Delhi police registered the first FIR on 16 March under IPC sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman).
After 96 hours, four days and widespread protests outside the Vasant Kunj police station, the cops arrested the accused professor. But Johri was let off on bail in all eight cases "within a few minutes".
JNU students, especially those belonging to the SLS, are outraged. Despite the students making vocal claims, there has been no action against the accused, not even an acknowledgement of the complaint registered by the people.
The students are disappointed but they are unwilling to give up.
“Don’t Give It a Political Colour”
TEFLAS, the cafeteria inside the JNU campus, is a place that students claim has seen a lot of action – be it protests, impromptu debates between students, or press conferences. Located a few metres away from the cafeteria is the JNUSU office – which was swarming with reporters, student activists, and mostly students from the School of Life Sciences.
To a packed room of people, the complainants made a formal statement alleging that they were under immense pressure to withdraw their FIRs. They alleged that they have been receiving threats from people alleging that Professor Johri was a powerful man and that their case will see no closure.
Johri reportedly told the trial court that the students lacked attendance and were "making up a case" of sexual harassment against him. The complainants are amused.
In the presser, they pointed to the statement made by Johri himself, who they say is a vocal supporter of RSS. They say that in his statement, he accused the complainants of being supporters of the Left, when “six of the eight are registered members of the ABVP”, they said.
The students also say that the “excuse of attendance” was being made up by Johri himself, that too to give a “political colour” to the issue.
The complainants also questioned whose side the administration was on. But there was no answer to that. The students are still waiting for an official response.
"No Secret that He Was A Harasser"
Every student from the SLS has a story to tell. And every story they have to tell begins in Lab 409 – the lab that is assigned to Atul Johri and his students.
Desh Deepak, a third-year PhD student, told The Quint that the lab and entry records were proof enough of their attendance, and that this case was about sexual harassment alone.
There is also one similarity in every LSL student's story. A line that more or less reads, "This has been happening for a long time. Students lacked the courage to come out with it as Johri is a powerful man and holds administrative posts".
Liju, who has been in the department for the last four years, told The Quint that sexist comments and body-shaming girls were a part of Johri's usual repertoire. But again, "no one had the courage".
The thing in our department that Professor Johri harasses girl students and makes sexist comments is something everyone knows, but no one turned up because they did not have the courage to do it. He will make sexist comments, body-shame people, he will comment about a girl’s lower back, put hands on their shoulders. These are very common to him but no one said anything because of the administrative posts he holds, and power he holds.Liju, Student
Why Did Students Not Have Courage to Report Earlier?
Shruti Simha, a member of the Gender Sensitisation Against Sexual Harassment, told The Quint that supervisors held "complete power" because from academic grants, to publishing of papers, to even lab experiments for research, everything required the sign of the concerned supervisor.
She asked how the complainants could feel confident to make a complaints if the members of the Internal Complaints Committee comprised of the accused or people who openly favour the accused?
Echoing Simha's thoughts, another student who did not wish to be named said that there were times when students would cry in the common room because they were harassed by Johri. But still, no one dared to make a formal complaint.
Students of the department allege that it a verbal complaint to the Dean of the Department but claim that he too did not act upon the complaints.
The students hope that all their "whys" will be answered. And that they will be answered as “quickly as the bail that Johri got”.