IIT Kanpur needs to call out ragging and sexual abuse on campus

At least 22 second-year students verbally and sexually abused a group of juniors on campus earlier this month.

 |  5-minute read |   19-09-2017
  • ---
    Total Shares

The IITs are at it again, doing what they've always done with great efficiency. It's a simple, three-part process.

1. Turn a blind eye to rampant sexual abuse and/or psychological torture on campus — until the sh*t well and truly hits the fan.

2. Watch aghast as a massive incident inevitably happens — like the one at IIT Kanpur earlier this month, where at least 22 second-year students verbally and sexually abused a group of first-year students.

3. Employ every trick in the book to deny, obfuscate or otherwise play down said incident, in order to protect a rapidly eroding, soon-to-be-non-existent "reputation".

Here's the Times of India report on what happened: Note the deputy director of the institute saying that "more than one student" was harassed by the 22 second-year students (this number, 22, is also courtesy a professor's blog and Facebook posts, not any official communication from IIT Kanpur). I seem to remember from my own math classes at IIT that "more than one" can mean as little as 2 (the number of people who killed themselves in my hostel, during 2007-2012, my stint at IIT Kharagpur; if you include other hostels as well, the toll reaches double digits for these 5 years alone) or as many as 16 (the number of confirmed student suicides in IITs alone from 2008-2011).

So which was it, sir, 2 or 16? Or was the number so embarrassingly large that you had to fall back on your usual lies and deception?

kanpur-iit_091917062824.jpgWhat happened in Kanpur was, by the university's own admission, a textbook case of ragging and bullying.

Professor Dheeraj Sanghi, a faculty member at IIT Kanpur, has, so far been the only member of the administration that has unequivocally called for exemplary punishment for the 22 accused. In his blog post, he described how large groups of students would be forced to "press each other's genitals". Close friends from IIT have testified that something very similar was routine ragging procedure for at least three hostels in IIT Kharagpur, in additions to slaps, kicks and repeated administering of chappal blows on bare bottoms. Also on the menu was repeated verbal abuse, wherein juniors were supposed to prove their "khadoos" (fierce/stern/tough; euphemisms for "in tune with toxic masculinity") status. I myself was never part of this because I made it loud and clear that I preferred social boycott to loss of autonomy.

It was an open secret among my batchmates that in 2009, a fourth-year student slapped a junior so hard that the latter sustained long-term injuries to his inner ear. And how was this hushed up? Deals were struck by panic-stricken seniors: the junior in question was "consoled" by the promise of a coveted internship at a global consultancy — the senior, apparently, had the ear of senior management at the consultancy's Gurgaon office. After the covert deals were finalised, one of the offender's neighbours (also a junior, like the victim) told me, longingly, "Kaash mujhe bhi aise hi padtaa ek kaan par" (I wish I had received that blow to the ear). 

Think about that for one moment and let it gently sink in: by the time an IIT student reaches their second year, abuse has been normalised so much that the aforementioned chain of events is seen as a WIN by the victim. And instead of being a cautionary tale, this became yet another chapter of "setting" or "jugaad", the IITian's penchant for gaining a competitive edge using any and all measures. These boys are not bothered about the lives of others (or even their own, as this case proves): merely their own careers. 

But I digress: the matter at hand concerns IIT Kanpur, not Kharagpur (although the problem, as I've said, is systemic and absolutely pervades each and every IIT in the country). Here, we have a college-appointed review committee that has found "more than one" student unequivocally guilty of sexual abuse and harassment — one victim said, in a letter to the authorities, that the seniors made him do "formidable tasks". Now, all that remains is the punishment, which is supposd to be announced after the IIT Kanpur senate's meeting on September 21.

Let me tell you how that's going to play out — professors and deans will say harsh things at the beginning of the meeting. There will be much tut-tutting and righteous head-shaking. Then, the criminal students (make no mistake: these are criminals who deserve to be behind bars and on a "registered sex offenders" list) will play their trump card: tearful contrition, backed up by the C-word: career. "Sir, career kharaab ho jaayega, please sir (Sir, my career will be ruined, sir!)." Ah, the beyond-reproach status of the IITian "career"!

Oh-so-many mothers and fathers have sacrificed their money and sleep for the sake of their progeny's IIT-fuelled career. Oh-so-many women in science and technology have been humiliated, overlooked and otherwise discriminated against — just so that these golden-bollocks IIT boys can continue to line their pockets and contribute to "nation-building". (Because what does the nation need more than engineers-turned-investment-bankers managing hedge funds in the Bay area, am I right?.)

What happened in Kanpur was, by the university's own admission, a textbook case of ragging and bullying. That the sexual abuse aspect of it has been kept under wraps is a testament to the institute's considerable aptitude for suppressing information. Had this happened literally anywhere else, expulsion would be the last thing on the minds of the 22 upstanding citizen-molesters. We would have been thinking, how many years and which of our dysfunctional jails will be their new home?

Instead, in all likelihood (and I hope I'm proven wrong here), the culprits will be let off with a rap on the knuckles, to protect the institute's "reputation" and to continue with business-as-usual. Maybe the molesters will be forced to repeat a semester. After which they'll be back — and here's the thing, they will touch sexually abuse young boys again. Because this is the true legacy of the IITs — elitism, entitlement and a sense of almost limitless power that allows these monstrosities to happen in the first place.

I say, make this stop now, I say, f*uck this bullshit. Send a message. Grow a spine, IIT Kanpur and watch your so-called reputation receive a rare, sorely needed boost.

Also read: Kiran Nagarkar saw it in 1978, how writers and artists will kiss ass


Aditya Mani Jha Aditya Mani Jha @aditya_mani_jha

Writer works at Penguin Random House India. The views expressed here are his own.

Like DailyO Facebook page to know what's trending.