SRM sexual harassment case: Student body accuses authorities of not acting against warden who blamed survivor

Chennai's SRM Institute of Science and Technology was in turmoil on Thursday as protests erupted after a student was sexually harassed in the institute's women's hostel. According to reports, a staffer masturbated at a second-year student inside a lift in the hostel, but no action was taken against the culprit until the protests broke out. The students became furious after a varisty official made a moral policing comments and said that such incidents happen to "North Indian girls".

On Friday, a 14-point statement was released anonymously on behalf of the student body as a whole, which clarified the events from the incident of sexual harassment at 3 pm on Thursday to the filing of an FIR by the survivor later that night. The statement describes the chaos as students jostled for an appropriate response from authorities and demanded justice for the girl. They claimed that while the varsity appeared reluctant to act against its officials and wardens who tried to hush up the issue, the college did support the girl in filing an FIR later.

Students protest inside the SRM college campus. Facebook

Students protest inside the SRM college campus. Facebook

Accusing the authorities for initial inaction and victim shaming, the students claimed that no disciplinary action was taken against the wardens who locked up all the girls inside hostel blocks and refused to provide dinner.  The students claimed that SRM vice-chancellor Sandeep Sancheti blamed the girl for creating "an issue out of nothing", and when girls started complaining about other security issues like workers peeking into their rooms, they weren't given a definitive response. This perhaps further angered the students, who had gathered to support the survivor.

Detailing the chronology of the events, the statement said, "The incident occurred between 2.30 and 3.00 pm in the lift of the women's hostel." They said that at first, the authorities did not take the incident seriously and the girl was simply told to write a letter detailing the harrowing experience. But the culprit had already left the campus by this time. The accused, however, was arrested by the police on Friday.

The statement of the SRM students further detailed that it was around 7 pm when the registrar of the institute arrived as the crowd of students swelled. The registrar's attempt to handle the situation "in a proper manner" failed and "people started gathering around and shouting".

The statement adds, "There had been no comment (on north Indian girls) at this time by the Registrar. The 'North-South' comment was made by the wardens, whose details were taken down by the registrar. The students were informed that specific action will be taken against them (the wardens)."

After this the registrar left the hostel premise. This angered the students and even though the hostel gates were shut since it was post the regular curfew hours, the girls started climbing over the walls in an attempt to stop the registrar. "But he was scared and left," the statement added.

After this, the students went to the house of the Director of Campus Life. "As the survivor's complaint was being pushed away, everyone went instead to the the Director of Campus Life. They gathered near his house and wanted to talk in a rational manner. However this was proving unsuccessful due to the surge of the crowd, thus a suggestion was made that everyone should go to the auditorium and talk it out peacefully."

The guards at the gate volunteered to escort the director, but in the process some "outsiders" managed to enter the campus. "Outsiders were able to enter and cause extra chaos for their own benefit," the statement said.

This is when chaos broke out. "While the Director was on his way to the auditorium, he was jostled by the crowd trying to reach him." This was the part that was captured on video, and was subsequently reported by a section of media.

"At this point, the director got annoyed and asked why the students were attacking him. He said that he was not the ultimate authority and just wants to help," the statement said.

The mob quickly became restless and this is when some people apparently tried to hit the director. "The senior students tried to shield him from the crowd as he was old, and they also wanted the matter to be handled in a civil manner," the statement said.

This is the point when the director lost his cool and "started abusing" the mob. He made some controversial comments. "Why do you wear short clothes," the director reportedly yelled after which the students became "enraged."

"After the situation broke down into chaos and the director took shelter in a security room. This is allegedly when he made the north Indian girl comment," the student body said, adding that this was said "out of fatigue."

The statement enraged the students and triggered violence. "The security room was attacked after this and the glass window was broken. The students keeping him safe somehow found a way to escort the director through the rear entrance."

As the situation worsened, the Director of Student Affairs (DSA head) arrived at the college. "She waited and listened to all the complaints, and not just the survivor's. " But tempers were running high and the DSA got into a heated argument with the students over an unknown issue, the statement said.

Eventually, the survivor was asked to file an FIR by the Director and to "write it in her own words". The statement said she had not done so until then "for personal reasons". "Maybe because she wanted to wait for her parents, the actual reason is unconfirmed."

The statement concludes, "It was said that going forward, precautions will be taken so that such an incidents don't occur.

Meanwhile, vice-chancellor Sancheti, denied the allegations of inaction. "Students are discussing with us. Whatever the matter is, it will be taken care of. If there is a matter, it will be inquired," Sancheti was quoted as saying by CNN-News18. 

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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2018 17:21:42 IST

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