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Stephenians buck trend, speak up

New Delhi, Dec. 17: Students of St. Stephen’s College today expressed distress following allegations of sexual harassment by an American girl against a professor.

The Students Union Society (SUS), the elected body of student representatives, condemned “sexual harassment of any kind, particularly if it affects one of us”.

The condemnation is rare at an institution where students are generally encouraged to stick to academics and extra-curricular activities.

The American girl, studying in the college under an exchange programme, had alleged on December 8 that her Sanskrit professor had tried to molest her.

“We feel the pain and trauma of our fellow students whenever any of us might be put through an ordeal of any sort,” SUS president Boban Varghese Paul said in a written statement.

Other students, who wished to remain anonymous, said they were still recovering from the shock of the allegations.

“I don’t think the college has ever had allegations of sexual harassment... certainly not of this nature. This makes me suddenly feel unsafe. Naturally, we students feel about the issue,” a second-year BA (History) Honours student said.

Across the campus, students could be seen discussing the allegations, especially in the light of a perceived tussle between former principal Anil Wilson and his successor.

“It is possible that one side concocted the story to cause trouble for the other,” a student said.

Following Wilson’s retirement, Valson Thampu was appointed principal. But his qualifications for the post — one has to be a PhD, which Thampu is not — came under scrutiny and Wilson demanded that he step down.

Now, Delhi University has asked St. Stephen’s to find a replacement for Thampu, but the faculty is divided on the issue.

The American girl’s complaint, referred by the St. Stephen’s authorities to a College Complaints Committee (CCC) and its revelation to the media, has led to a further split in the faculty.

The Sanskrit department has accused the committee of bias, a charge it has denied. The accused professor has been issued a notice to which he has to reply by Thursday.

The students’ union is unwilling to take sides in the debate within the faculty but has backed the decision of the CCC not to reveal details of the case.

“With regard to not disclosing details of this case, we stand with the college authorities,” Paul’s statement said.

The union has also condemned an alleged attempt by members of the Delhi University Students Union to enter the Stephen’s campus on Friday and force the authorities to give them details about the accused professor.

Unlike students’ unions elsewhere, the SUS — as the name suggests — is just another of the college’s extra-curricular societies, which has relatively little independence from college authorities.

St. Stephen’s is the only college in the university that is not a part of the Delhi University Students Union .

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