CHENNAI: Students usually let their hair down during a college trip but female students of the Madras Christian College claimed to have spent their final-year trip trying to avoid sexual harassment from the very person sent to keep them from harm’s way.
Both male and female students of the Zoology Department in the college alleged that during their department trip to Karnataka in January, Professor R Raveen touched female students inappropriately, made lewd comments about their dressing and invaded their privacy.
“He rested his palm on my thigh and refused to remove it despite noticing discomfort,” said Devi*, one of the victims, claiming Raveen had done this after squeezing into the last row of bus, though there were empty seats.
Students also claimed that Raveen passed lewd comments about the way they had dressed. “He asked us why we hadn’t brought small (revealing) clothes for the trip and ridiculed us for wearing salwars,” said Lakshmi, claiming the other male staff member Samuel Tennyson not only refused to interfere but also encouraged Raveen’s behaviour.
Sunita*, another victim, claimed the worst part was when he allegedly barged into her room in the middle of night to lie next to another classmate.
“Maybe it was consensual between them, but the other girl and I were terrified when he just lay next to us in the night,” she said.
On returning to college and after much deliberation, the students decided to file an anonymous complaint towards the end of January only to be rejected by the department.
So, 35 of the total 50 students, who went on the trip, signed a complaint detailing the incidents of harassment and the inaction of the other staff member during the trip and sent it to college principal Alexander Jesudasan.
It is learnt that the principal forwarded the complaint to the Head of the Department Moses Inbaraj, without intimating the Internal Complaints Committee of the college, which is a violation of the UGC (Prevention, Prohibition, Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2015 which mandates all sexual harassments to be forwarded to the ICC.
Following a brief ‘namesake’ single-man enquiry with victims which they deem as an attempt to downplay the harassment, it was decided that Raveen and Samuel Tennyson would not accompany students for trips for the next three years and they would not evaluate exam papers of the affected class.
“How is this even a punishment? We feel helpless and let down. Our juniors will surely continue facing harassment because the management chose not to take strict action,” said a student.
Interestingly, Dean of Student Affairs Prince Annadurai and Dean of Women Students Vijayakumari Joseph were kept in the dark about these complaints.
“If the students had approached me, I would have initiated action,” said Prince Annadurai, explaining his limitations in the issue because it also involved staff members.
When contacted, Principal-in-charge A Duraisamy said that he would look into the issue and would appraise Principal Jesudasan about the situation.
“We will definitely take strict action if the allegations are found true,” Duraisamy said. One professor also claimed that this was not the first sexual harassment complaint filed against Raveen.
When contacted, Raveen claimed that the allegations were ‘politically motivated’ by the former head of the department Arul Samraj.
“He has been using the students to ruin my career and prevent my advancement in the department,” he said.
Arul Samraj has refuted these allegations.
“They are baseless allegations. An independent enquiry must be held by the Internal Complaints Committee to check the veracity of these allegations,” Samraj said.