‘Three more minutes, baby.”
It has been three months since an anonymous faculty member at Christ (Deemed-to-be) University reportedly called a student “baby” and asked another to lower her camera while writing her online exam.
Despite how a significant amount of time has elapsed since the first accusation, the college is yet to give media and civil society actors any updates on whether they investigated this case or took any steps at all to ensure that such incidents do not repeat themselves. After having spoken to and getting insights from former students at Christ (Deemed-to-be) University, several social media reports, and not receiving any response at all from the college, one thing is evident: silent treatment seems to be a strategy that works wonders for the college.
From observing Twitter threads full of grievances posted in 2020 to conversations with alums (under the guarantee of anonymity) who studied there almost a decade ago, we have gathered that stonewalling has worked excellently in brushing severe cases under the carpet. The college has not only been accused of passive silence to any outsider asking questions, it has also reportedly silenced many students in the past as well. In a recent video by the Vice-chancellor, he calls students who do not engage in media campaigns against the college “role models”, thus further encouraging people to stay silent against allegations of harassment. Many alum (under the condition of anonymity) spoke to us about how brutal intimidation tactics against students have been used previously at Christ (Deemed-to-be) University, including even suspension and loss of a degree — all for raising safety concerns.
While the general momentum around the case dying down might have seemed like an another successful attempt for the Christ (Deemed-to-be),they have also meanwhile not responded to any questions raising the grievances of the concerned or criticism. However, the college did vaguely and briefly acknowledge these accusations in response to a New Indian Express article from June 21, when it asked, “How can they (UGC regional office) ask us to adhere to the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI’s) demand?” Christ Vice-Chancellor Dr Fr Abraham VM had then told TNIE that students had the option of writing examinations physically if the online method did not suit them. But why is the onus on the students to opt for physical appearance at examinations in a pandemic state wherein it is not the safest to step out, because online modes of examination are clearly not being made safe enough? Should students be expected to predict that the online method will lead to them being sexually harassed? This is undoubtedly a classic case of victim-blaming: the students chose the online method and must hence suffer the consequences.
Christ (Deemed-to-be) University must be flexible enough to reconsider safer ways of conducting examinations – whether offline or online. It is pertinent to note here that Latha KC, Union Grant Commission (UGC) education officer, had reportedly confirmed that the university was asked to not “target” students and instead, to consider them. In a letter by the regional UGC office taking cognizance of the college’s online mode of examinations and also its mode of evaluation, it was also stated that “if the institute fails to implement these directions, it could invite punitive action”.
Had this been a one-off incident of negligence, one could give the benefit of doubt to Christ (Deemed-to-be) University. However, there have been several reports about the college’s predatory faculty, attempt at silencing students and regressive rules that work against the students rather than for them.
This is exactly why it is important we hold the educational institution accountable, demand updates about their investigation and future steps. Every silence that helps the institution manoeuvre its way around accountability strengthens its impunity in future cases of negligence as well.
However, there is still hope: the law and the supervisory body, the University Grants Commission, still hold authority over Christ (Deemed-to-be) University. According to the UGC [Deemed to be Institutions] Regulations, 2019, the college must provide a sound and active Internal Complaints Committee and Grievance Redressal cell to maintain its Deemed-to-be status and hope for full university status in the future. The UGC then becomes the one authority that can systemically scrutinise the Christ (Deemed-to-be) University refusal to engage with the concerns raised against them.
In the previously mentioned letter by the UGC South-west regional officer Education Officer, they had suggested alternative modes of evaluation based on the NSUI’s demands, such as open-book and assignment-based exams. However, there has been no public notification of any further action or follow-up as having taken place since. Jhatkaa.org’s last update from the UGC was that Christ (Deemed-to-be) University had not responded to their notice.
It is important that the UGC looks into ending the Christ (Deemed-to-be) University era of hostility and disregard for students’ safety.
People have the right to know how this case was handled – especially now that the college is inviting in applications from prospective students for the new academic year. Both the UGC and the college, as established structures, are answerable to the people, must give them updates on actions taken and be accountable for their responsibilities.
But this battle can only be won when we prove to the UGC that we are out there actively awaiting appropriate answers from them. Let’s stand together against the sexual harassment of students and assert that institutions cannot turn away from their responsibility of ensuring safety of the students and staff affiliated with them. Sign the petition!
P.S: Do you want to know your rights as a college student? Do you want to learn how your college should prioritise your safety? Sign up for our Internal Committee workshop!
Manasi Pant, the author of the article, works with Jhatkaa.org.
Jhatkaa.org has reached out to the Christ (Deemed-to-be) University and is awaiting their response. The article will be updated as and when the institution replies.
Featured image source: Institutes Hub