Edited by Neha Cherian, Sahil Halarnkar and Vibhhu Sharma
Design by Harshavardhan
Disclaimer: The article contains an account of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.
On the night of July 24, a female student was sexually assaulted on her way back to the hostel zone from NAC, as reported by her friend via smail on July 26. The incident occurred on the road that connects NAC and the hospital road. A man in his mid-twenties, who appeared to be a laborer, ambushed her on the dimly lit road. Despite her cries for help, no security guard came to her aid. Following a terrifying struggle, she managed to fight back and run back to the hostel.
The incident left students concerned about their safety at the institute. Many students travel back and forth across the same route or other parts of the institute for various purposes, including CFI work, research work, using computing facilities, or simply to get some fresh air. Safety issues risk entrenching a gender divide by distancing women from the multitude of activities that take place at night. The Student’s Constitution allows for the free movement of every student within the campus and it would be unacceptable for any student to travel in fear. As a result, it is critical that there is a move to increase security, improve lighting around NAC and other less frequented locations throughout the institute, and deploy an extensive CCTV surveillance network to ensure the safety of students inside the institute. People who aren’t a part of the institute ecosystem must be made aware of institute policies and culture and their access to common areas for students must be supervised.
The Dean of Students (DoSt) replied to the thread of smails on July 27, 2022. Following is a summary of the information conveyed to the entire GSB regarding the incident.
According to the mail:
- The security section was alerted of the incident on the 26th of July.
- Several measures were suggested to avoid any untoward incident in the future. These measures included informing the laboratory-in-charge or fellow students (as part of a Buddy System) for visiting the lab outside of working hours. Female students could avail the bus service by contacting the Security Section for transport between 7PM and 2AM on all days. In case of any incident, the security section should be informed immediately.
- Although it is challenging to maintain security on a 600+ acre campus with large forest area, working together with the security staff will help. We will try to develop a mobile application that would assist in case of emergencies.
Several students were incensed by DoSt’s initial response complaint. The proposal put out was questioned because “women not moving out late at night alone” is not a solution. Additionally, students cannot always rely on the availability of a buddy. Since the incident occurred right in front of the NAC road, the claim that the campus is spread out over 600+ acres as a reason for lack of surveillance is moot. Furthermore, the existence of the night shuttle service doesn’t seem to be common knowledge. The notion that the onus of avoiding sexual assault should fall upon the precautions taken by an individual proves that a shift in mindset is still awaited, as reflected by the massive number of smails in reply to the complaint.
T5E reached out to the DoSt office for updates regarding the investigation being conducted into the matter. As of 5PM, July 30:
- The police investigation has already begun.
- Following a discussion with various student teams, the following suggestions were considered:
- Increase camera surveillance and security patrols.
- Improve the supervision of outsider movement for various activities such as construction, maintenance, etc.
- A student body was asked to provide information on locations where student movement is higher and enhanced lighting is required.
Several news sites carry a descriptive statement from the institute. You can find one such article here. T5E will update the GSB on further action taken.
*****UPDATE: 1PM, 9th August 2022
An emergency SLC Meeting convened on 4th August, 2022 to discuss the incident and the status of the investigation.
The meeting began with the Secretariat Head giving an introduction and asking the Dean of Students (DoSt) to shed light on the incident. DoSt briefed everyone on the incident that had occurred. He clarified that the incident could not be captured because the cameras present did not cover that area. After the mail came out, DoSt immediately notified CCASH (Complaints Committee Against Sexual Harassment), who got in touch with the victim and her parents. They decided not to file a formal police complaint. Nonetheless, security began an investigation and subsequently, the Kotturpuram police started their investigation as well. CSO was also called to speak with the victim’s parents, who informed them that the workers were not allowed to leave after the incident and that all of their photographs were taken for investigation purposes. Many parents offered suggestions on how to increase campus security.
DoSt stated that based on the evidence provided, the police zeroed in on the accused and apprehended him. However, an FIR wasn’t filed, the accused couldn’t be kept in custody indefinitely. The institution approached the victim, her parents, and the person who had written the email to file a police complaint. The administration decided to file a complaint last Tuesday, but the complaint was said to be weak because the administration was not a firsthand witness. DoSt also spoke with the parents who had contacted the institute after learning of the accident about what had occurred and what had been done.
DoSt advised students to go out at night with a companion and to notify someone as there is no harm in doing so. He also stated that the GSB should exercise caution when sending emails because different people interpret them differently and may sensationalize them. Students can make a confidential complaint to the authorities and their identities would be protected.
Following this, members of the SLC and the GSB asked the Dean questions.
The BT Department Legislator inquired as to what the institute is doing to prevent such incidents. DoSt responded that we are all in this together and should collaborate. The institute has cameras installed throughout, and the police are assisting them in identifying areas that require additional lighting and surveillance. A session regarding student safety would be held in the coming week. The institute is also working to improve lighting. He also mentioned creating an app that would contact the police in about 20 minutes. A background check is being conducted on everyone who comes to campus for work. Despite the odds and constraints, he stated that there is always the possibility of an incident occurring. Despite their best efforts, they are unable to guarantee that it will not happen.
DoSt was urged by an HS21 student to not shirk their responsibilities because all they wanted was confirmation that the institute will prevent similar incidents from happening. She asked for CCASH to be made more accessible because most students on campus didn’t know how to get in touch with them.
Following that, the CFI Head stated that they are working on an app with a security alert feature and plan to launch it on August 16th. Later in the meeting, the Secretariat Head suggests that the app be launched sooner.
An SLC member then stated that there must be some consistency in how people are allowed to enter the campus from all gates. The gates, such as Tharamani and Velachherri, are not properly monitored. It appears that anyone can enter the campus.
An SLC member questioned whether the administration is required to notify the police if an issue such as sexual harassment is reported. DoSt responds that if the victim wishes to file a complaint, the security will assist the victim in doing so. He followed up with another question asking if they are willing to admit that the security system failed. DoSt replied that he felt like it was his fault and states that it is our collective responsibility to prevent such incidents.
A member of the mechanical department, offers his support and demands action. He asks that the CCTVs be installed right away for a perfect backup and that it be completed in 10 to 15 days. When asked for a particular date of implementation by a student, DoSt responded that he had sufficient information and would follow up.
A student from the humanities department requested to schedule self-defense sessions like the ones that were held before 2019. DoSt responded by saying he would consider this and would urge everyone to participate.
The issue of security guards not being sensitive enough to such issues was raised by a student. He informed the SLC of an emergency that had occurred where it took the security guard approximately an hour to arrive. He proposed that the guards receive proper training on crisis management.
Two students informed everyone that they were working with the Dean, and students could approach them in case of any suggestions. They apologized on behalf of the GSB for all the anger and emotions on the mail thread. DoSt said that there was no need for that.
The meeting ended with the Secretariat Head thanking everyone, and asking them to fill the feedback form.