Interview with the Faculty Advisor to the Students’ Council, Prof. Anjali Karande
1) What is your prime focus as the Faculty Adviser to the Students’ Council?
It is to help the students, any which way, to make their lives here comfortable – it could be academic and non-academic as well, but mostly academic, as far as possible. That is in the position as a Student Adviser. Since I am a Student Adviser, I get pulled into several committees which deal with student welfare. I have been on committees that dealt with hostels, messes, etc. But that is discontinued right now. My prime focus as of now is mostly to advise the students and thus to help them better their stay here.
2) How often do you receive complaints pertaining to eve-teasing, harassment, etc.?
Not too many. But then, of course, we are seven or eight other members in the committee, so I presume that each one of us is contacted, if that’s the word, for issues. So, may be, let’s say, from January to now, two people have come and complained about, if I can call it, ‘eve-teasing’ or anything that can be related to sexual harassment. Last year again, there were some three or four complaints.
3) When you receive the complaint, what actions do you take?
We work as a committee. I try not to work on complaints individually, unless it is just giving advice. I will give you an example. In the beginning of this year, one student from the institute community came to me saying that while she was walking towards the gate of the Centenary Guest House, there was one guy who followed her and stopped near her. She thought that he was asking for directions. Then this fellow said something inappropriate, which I do not want to repeat here. She was so shocked by that, that at first she did not know how to react. Then he started laughing because actually he just wanted to see the expressions on her face and got some kick out of it. But she had the presence of mind to go running and try to note his bike’s number. She shouted to the Security guard too to get his help in this. But neither of them could note the bike number. So when she came to me, we were trying to see how we can find this person. So then, I told her that she should immediately get in touch with Mr. Chandrasekhar, because this is really a security issue; and apparently, the Security Office did a lot. So that was the advice. Now, we didn’t know who the person was, whether the person was an insider or an outsider.
If it is anything to do with any student or if it is anybody from inside campus, anybody on the payroll or fellowship, then we actually have a committee for dealing with such complaints. In such cases, we ask the person to give the report in writing because it has to be authentic. Unless it is in writing, we cannot even act. Then of course, we call the persons, the aggrieved one as well as the person who has been accused, and we see whether we can resolve the issue ourselves. If we cannot, we go to the Director and other higher authorities. There have been cases where the guilty are given a suspension for six months or something like that. So usually, it is definitely through a committee, it is never a single person taking any action.
4) In the light of the recent security lapses, what measures are being taken to ensure that such lapses do not occur again?
[When the security lapse occurred,] I was at home at that time, the first thing I did was ensure that the people who have to know about the issue were informed about it– the Director and the others, of course, already knew and they were already taking adequate measures. I was quite satisfied with what had taken place with respect to help from the institute.
After that, I wanted to know if the other people, like the wardens, knew about the security lapses. So immediately, I made a call to one of the wardens and I talked to her. Then she immediately went over there and tried to find out [if the security arrangements were proper]. I accompanied her to the hostel again, later. And, of course, we found a lot of problems there.
I am sure nobody anticipated such a thing would happen. I must say, I was extremely shocked! Really! I have been here for so many years and I never heard anything like this. So it was shocking. And I am sure the Director, the Associate Director; all of them were equally perturbed. So the first thing that had to done, which was easy to do, is see that that place is kept locked. I must tell you this that students have to see this as a responsibility on themselves. Because one of the major problems was the staircase. There is a door to that staircase which actually leads anybody right till the top without anybody even noticing that person. That door should be kept locked.
There is a security guard posted there. When I went there, and it was a surprise check, I did find that person. The two ladies who look after that hostel, they were also there. We spoke to them. So it appeared to be like things are in place. I sincerely hope this will continue. Now, that door, unfortunately, which should be kept locked, you can open it from inside. You do not need the key for that. But once you get out from that door, you should see that the door is closed. Now in fact, I’ve told the warden to please have a meeting with the girl students, because maybe some of them do not know this. Possible! So they should be informed. This is the only way. Girls have to protect themselves as well. So that is what I’ve [advised]. This happened just last week and I think it will be done.
Now as far as lighting and everything is concerned, I think they have taken care. Well, there are still some things that can be done of course, like there is a grill all along the Ground floor. But the first floor is very close! So anybody can get in. But because now there is good lighting, and there is patrolling and there is one person who is right at the entrance of that basement, it might help to a great, great extent.
That was hostel specific. What about campus in general?
Ok, campus in general: I must say, I haven’t received any complaint other than this incident and what had happened last year, which was a stupid incident – not a security thing
– it was a stupid behaviour of an outsider who should not have been here. But otherwise, I haven’t heard anything. Even the thefts – I am not the warden anymore, I was the warden several years ago – I used to hear complaints of thefts, etc. But usually all the thefts were done by people within. So, I haven’t heard anything that’s been from outside except that one case that I talked about – the Centenary Guest House one.
5) How safe do you feel women are on campus?
How safe? I thought women were very safe until that one incident, I must tell you that. I never thought such an incident [would happen]. I have spoken about this to several colleagues of mine. Everybody was equally shocked! We never thought such things could happen.
But of course I mean, one can sit and argue about this and why it is happening, etc., but I do not think that is the purpose right now. But I do not know now, frankly speaking! But by and large, yes [the campus is safe], by and large. I have never had to tell my students – I have many girl students – I have never had to tell them ‘be careful, do not go alone’. I never even thought I needed to tell them that! But yes, after this incident, I have called them and I have told them ‘please do not go [alone]’. Sometimes they tend to work late, and I’d say ‘please do not do that! If you do, see that there are at least not just two, but three or four of you who walk together’, because it’s a terrible thing! It is something that you’ll never forget the rest of your life!
But yes, until one month ago, I would have said [the campus is] very safe. I do not know [now].
We have had people who say “it is night, can you just come till the hostel?”, because the road is not well-lit. So the assumption is that the lab is a safe place, the hostel is a safe place, but the way in between may be slightly insecure. The recent security lapses seem to have turned everything on its head.
A: Absolutely! I have never heard anything negative in any of the labs till date. That much I can say. There have been, like I said, thefts. But most of the times the culprit was caught. Of course, I am glad that you are taking it very seriously. I believe people have to be made aware. If you are made aware, you will be alert. But honestly, like I said, I never even thought I should tell anybody to be alert! It was extremely safe. I have had students who really walk down without even a care in the world, walk down right from Biochemistry Department till their hostel which is quite far. But, I do not know. What do the students think about this?
We conducted a survey. Based on that, of around 250 odd responses we received, 80 said the campus is not safe, the remaining said it is.
80 said not safe? That’s nearly 30%! Which is a really large number!