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Stop sexual harassment in academia, severe punishment for Dr. Mrinal Kanti Mukherjee

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Dear Sir/Madam

            This is a petition seeking justice for my sister who has faced sexual harassment on multiple occasions by her PhD supervisor Dr. Mrinal Kanti Mukherjee, Associate Professor, Department of Applied Geology, Indian Institute of Technology (Indian School of Mines), Dhanbad. Sexual harassment in any form (verbal and physical) is deplorable and its occurrence should be brought to light and the offender severely punished. It is supremely disappointing that a reputed institute of our country like IIT (ISM), Dhanbad, turns a blind eye and deaf ears to the pleading of a scholar and conveniently sidelines the incident as the victim lives in torment and shame while the offender is proud and free.

My sister enrolled for the doctorate programme under the supervision of Dr. M.K. Mukherjee in July, 2015. Few months after joining, her harrowing experience started. Initially, the harassment was verbal as he started calling her “sexy”, “girlfriend”, etc. without any context. He also started asking her to come to lab wearing “saree with sleeveless blouse”. While she went into his office to discuss her dissertation related problems he would indulge in conversations regarding the various private moments that couples share and used to make statements such as “if you don’t go to the movies with me while holding my hands then your knowledge would remain incomplete”, etc. It was also quite common for him to abuse her with slangs, saying things like “Kahan kahan se aajate hain ye bhosriwale?”, “asshole”, etc. The accused is known within the institute both for his teaching capabilities and his lecherous character. It is usual for him to make indecent comments like “sexy”, “you are like my girlfriend”, “do you have periods normally?” etc. to female students and scholars. He is also known to hug, kiss and inappropriately touch unsuspecting female students and scholars.

Despite the victim’s repeated mention of discomfort, progressively he became sexually more aggressive and started ogling at her private parts, pulling her by her hand, touching her inappropriately on some pretext or the other and much more. He even slapped her once for failing to answer one of his questions as a spontaneous reaction to which she cried.  His twisted mentality got revealed the very next day when he commented that she looked “sexy” while crying. Sometime during March, 2016, the accused even asked her “Does a girl feel threatened working under him?” She made it clear to him that the kind of words he uses while conversing with girls and his behaviour towards them would make any girl feel harassed. Nevertheless his behaviour remained the same. One day during her fieldwork in July 2017, he deliberately stood behind her inappropriately such that his body was pressed against hers. He even threatened her with dire consequences if she ever dared to lodge a complaint of sexual harassment against him.  Like several women in our country, she too failed to muster the courage to lodge a complaint in fear of the consequences. Sometime during September, 2017, when she went into his office for some academic reasons he touched her inappropriately. After this incident, she decided not to tolerate his sexual advances anymore as things were getting worse with every passing day and it was only a matter of time when he might force himself on her.

My sister lodged her complaint in October, 2017. She attended two meetings convened by the Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) formed to investigate the matter. Instead of investigating the matter in an unbiased manner, she was either pressurised to admit that she consented to all his sexual advances or her academic performance was brought to question. Although it has been two months since she lodged the complaint, no action has been taken. Since the matter is being investigated by the ICC, she has not lodged a FIR.

My faith in ICC is now completely compromised as they have taken selective statements of the victim despite the proof of an audio recording where Dr. Mukherjee admitted to most of the accusations. Moreover, the presiding officer of the ICC is in very good personal terms with Dr. Mukherjee as bragged by the accused himself. Neither has the accused been sent on forced leave nor has he been barred from visiting his lab and department, both of which were done in the recently reported case of sexual harassment at IISER, Kolkata, an another central institute. As a result of this deliberate negligence and bias toward an offender, the accused is openly trying to influence students and scholars by calling them to his chamber in person. While many are aware of the accused person’s loathsome character they are afraid to take any steps in fear of repercussions which may adversely affect their career.

I would like to ask does being an “Institute of national importance” mean being a free ground for sexual predators like Dr. M.K. Mukherjee? How does an organisation of educational importance justify its failure in providing a safe working space for women? It’s an earnest appeal to you that this person needs to be punished severely so that no other faculty dares to repeat the same heinous acts. He needs to be terminated from his position with immediate effect.

My sister is still awaiting justice and I believe your actions can render that.

Thanking you.

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