St Stephen's sexual harassment shame: Victim accuses Principal Valson Thampu of intimidation and cover up
St Stephen's College Principal Valson Thampu is in the news once again for wrong reasons. This time, he is being accused of compromising with the safety and dignity of a 27-year-old PhD student who had been allegedly sexually harassed for two years by a member of his college's faculty.
New Delhi: St Stephen’s College Principal Valson Thampu is in the news once again for wrong reasons. This time, he is being accused of compromising with the safety and dignity of a 27-year-old PhD student who had been allegedly sexually harassed for two years by a member of his college's faculty. Satish Kumar, who is also the bursar of the college, was the thesis adviser of the woman was pursuing a post-doctoral degree in chemistry at Delhi University.
But when she approached the principal with her complaint, he tried to convince her not to file a complaint, the student says.
“Thampu told me if I go to the university’s internal complaints committee (a statutory body meant to address such cases), my degree will be jeopardised. He wanted me to register a compliant of academic problem,” she told Firstpost, adding that he also insisted that she to tone down the complaint.
The victim alleges that Thampu had tried to intimidate her into resolve the matter within the college itself, stating that it would also allow her to complete her PhD.
“When I refused to bow, my monthly stipend of Rs 1,800 was blocked Thampu and Kumar,” she said.
A senior faculty member of the college explained that the stipend cannot be blocked without the consent of the principal.
“The university sends to stipend amount to the bursar office and the bank cheque given to students carry joint signatures of the principal and the bursar. The amount can never be disbursed with one signature only. It means the stipend was blocked with Thampu’s consent,” the lecturer told Firstpost.
When asked why she did not change her thesis guide, she said, “I requested for the same to Thampu as well as my supervisor in the Delhi University Chemistry Department, but both of them rejected my plea.”
The victim on Saturday withdrew her complaint from the college’s Internal Investigation Committee, which is probing the matter, stating that she has no faith in it. She has instead filed an FIR with Maurice Nagar police station under sections 354 (assaulting women with an intent to outrage her modesty), 354A (sexual harassment) and 354D (stalking) of the Indian Penal Code.
Kumar, as alleged in the FIR, started sexually harassing her in May 2013. He first molested her in October 2013 when he “pulled her towards himself” in the college lab, caught hold of her and “touched inappropriately” despite her resistance and continuous refusal. When she managed to escape, the accused followed her, and kept calling her till she reached the GTB Nagar Metro station. You can read the entire FIR statement here.
She then informed her parents who reached Thampu’s office where the accused professor apologised for what he had done.
“He (Thampu) tried to convince my parents not to turn this into a complaint of sexual harassment as it could result in a scandal for both parties and also affect his daughter's chance of getting a Ph.D,” she alleged in the FIR.
Thampu has denied all allegations, claiming that it is a contrived controversy aimed at tarnishing the college.
“On 10 December 2014, the complainant met me with the grievance that Dr Satish Kumar, her research guide, subjected her to sexual harassment in 2013. She further complained that Dr Kumar was not taking due interest in her research work. I advised her to file a complaint with the Internal Complaints Committee. The complainant resolutely refused to do so, saying all she wants is to earn her PhD degree and that the principal should help her to that end. She told me that her father and sister wanted to meet me. I gave an appointment.
“A week later the father and sister of the complainant, together with her, met me in my office. With folded hands, the father pleaded not to turn this into a complaint of sexual harassment as it could result in a scandal for both parties and also affect his daughter’s chance of getting a PhD. ,” he writes in a statement published on NDTV.
Thampu claims that he then called a meeting of the complainant and the accused at which “both agreed to complete the work latest by the end of July 2015”.
“The complainant did not utter a word about sexual harassment. I also offered the complainant that I could see if a different guide could be secured for her. But she insisted on completing the remaining research with Dr. Kumar. On the 9 January, she met me and submitted a written complaint alleging sexual harassment as well as sexual assault by Dr Kumar. But she reiterated her keenness to continue research under Dr Kumar as, according to her, 80 percent of her work was finished. I insisted that, given the nature of the complaint (i.e. sexual assault), it needs to be registered with the internal complaint committee. She told me I don’t wish this to be treated as a case of sexual harassment.... the matter should be treated as closed,” Thampu claims.
He added the complainant met him on 10 January with a handwritten request reiterating the request made on the previous day (9 January) not to pass on the document to the internal complaints committee of the college as she needed time to think. “I gave her three-day time to make up her mind. At this stage, the complainant reveals that she had filed a complaint of sexual harassment with the University Department also. She asks for time to go and withdraw the same. On 14 January, she did not turn up. Having waited for three days, I filed all relevant papers with the internal complaints committee for appropriate action,” he said.
Thampu adds it is “absolutely certain that the complainant, on her own, would not have made these wild allegations. Many people know that two individuals playing behind this as well as all contrived controversies against the college."
But many Stephenians have refused to accept Thampu’s version of events, and have launched a protest campaign on social platforms seeking his resignation.
Senior bureaucrat and St Stephen’s alumnus Ashish Joshi told Firstpost, “Thampu will have to go jail. What has happened is terrible. ”
This is not the first brush with controversy for Thampu. His decision to ban the publication of St Stephen’s Weekly and suspend its editor Devansh Mehta sparked wide protests, including from St Stephen's faculty and alumni.
Read the victim's FIR statement here.
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