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Time Indian Science Woke Up And Gave Up Its Business-As-Usual Attitude: Scientists Speak Out On JNU Sexual Harassment Case

JNU Professor Atul Johri was arrested and granted bail last Tuesday following allegations of sexual harassment

Indian scientists of note have spoken out against sexual harassment and the need to spread awareness about the issue in the wake of allegations against JNU Professor Atul Johri.

On Tuesday, Johri was arrested over allegations of sexual harassment by women students of the Jawaharlal Nehru university. He was granted bail shortly afterwards by a Delhi court.

In their statement, 165 scientists from premier institutions across the country say the incident “points to a pattern that appears to be specific to the nature of working conditions for women in scientific labs in India.” They mention that while not every lab across the country is unsuitable for women, “to think of this as an isolated case of an individual wrongdoing would be an oversimplification and an understatement of the problem.”

Last Monday, 54 JNU professors had demanded registration of separate FIRs in all eight sexual harassment complaints against Johri, who is from the Life Sciences department. They had also petitioned Deputy Commissioner of Police (south-west) Milind Dumbere’s office for the same.

The scientists note in their statement that cases of sexual harassment are not just found at workplaces of scientific research, but that its “authority structure” is “especially perilous for women”. “While the growing numbers of women in the university has encouraged serious reflections and engagements with the gender question in humanities and social sciences, the world of science has remained unaffected and unwilling to question its ways of doing things,” they add.

Calling for the world of science to tackle such issues head-on, their statement calls for an “urgent need” to address issues pertaining to “sexism, prejudice and harassment.”

It is time that Indian science woke up to its changing social reality and gives up its business-as-usual attitude. It is also time to hear from the Indian science academies and funding bodies clear policies of inclusion and representation. In addition, sexual misconduct should not only be condemned, it should invite black-listing from serving on scientific committees, receiving funding, awards and election to academies.

At its conclusion, the statement calls upon Indian scientists, especially women, to support the complainant in her quest and to publicly acknowledge and spread awareness on the issue of sexual harassment.

The statement comes at a time when students from JNU have been up in arms even after Johri was granted bail. Shocked over him getting bail, five women students of the university who had filed sexual harassment complaints against him countered his claims in the bail plea and said it was due to “institutional hierarchy” that one of them was forced to attend birthdays and festival celebrations with him.

They also said that six of the eight complainants belonged to the ABVP, the BJP’s student wing, and said the “Left conspiracy” smelt by the professor was just an attempt to give a political undertone to the matter.

With PTI Inputs

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