Recently on Losar eve (Ladakhi new year) an unfortunate news of molestation of a Ladakhi medical student at Government Medical College (GMC) Jammu surfaced. It came as a shock to many of us. Let's put the facts on record first.
According to the media reports, on 20th December 2016, a girl student was waiting outside the office of Head of the Department, Forensic Sciences', GMC Jammu, to discuss her supplementary paper. After waiting for hours outside, the HoD called her inside the office. Two days later the student told her mother that she had been sexually harassed by the HoD during that meeting. Her parents and friends then decided to file a First Information Report (FIR), which after much difficulty, was finally lodged on 26th December 2016. The accused was booked under FIR 198/16 Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code accused of "Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty". Later the accused was arrested on 28th December. Much later on 2nd January 2017, the Medical department came up with a suspension letter of the accused while attached him at the directorate of Health Services Jammu.
The conviction under the above offence carries a sentence of one to five years in prison. But this didn't happen. Rather, very shamefully, the GMC administration tried to protect the accused by giving him medical asylum which was apparent from the fact that the accused was admitted to the ICU for no reason. The GMC administration and other forces avoided to shield the accused only when they were pressurized by the legislators for Ladakh and constant and huge student support to the victim in different form of protests.
This unfortunate incident at GMC Jammu is highly disturbing for many reasons. This incident has happened in one of the premier public institutions of the state. According to different sources the accused is said to be a habitual molester. Some students have said reportedly in the media that the accused has been harassing students for a long time and for the first time a student has made the courage to register FIR against the culprit. According to the batch mates of the complainant, the HoD has also been accused of taking bribes from male students in order to pass them in the examinations. It is a disgrace for a premier institution like GMC Jammu to have an employee who is a habitual molester (as reported in the media by students) heading the Department of Forensic Medicine.
It is an irony that GMC has its Head of forensic medicine, which mainly deals with application of medical knowledge to the investigation of crime, who himself has a questionable character at the first place. So it is highly disturbing not only for the present case of molestation but also for all other cases of criminal investigation, which pass through this department under the accused. It is also disturbing to see how highly educated person and a teacher could think of doing such criminal act to its own student. Since teachers are considered as the character builders of the students, if the character of teacher is itself questionable, how could one expect a good moral education for students?
This case of sexual harassment at GMC Jammu demands strict punishment for the accused. It is not only a case of outraging the modesty of women, as it is also a case of the misuse of the power conferred by the service under which the accused was employed. The criminal act done by the accused was in his capacity of the Professor HoD of forensic medicine. So in a sense it is also violation of the power conferred service under which the accused was employed. This case can also be looked in the light of the violation of fundamental right of women as right of equality under article 14 and 15, fundamental right to life with dignity under article 21 which also includes right to a safe environment free from sexual harassment.
Though there is no dearth of laws to deal with the offence of sexual harassment, it is the lack of proper implementation that is a concern for the safety of women. The present law to deal with the sexual harassment is the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The fact that this law is being placed is a good thing but it is the implementation which is worrisome. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, provides for the ICC (Internal Complaint Committee) to be constituted in the entire department having more than 10 employees. But this was hardly being followed and implemented. Thus the culprit runs scot-free. There has to be sense of fear in the minds of the offender by implementing the law in spirit. Otherwise many more criminals would get away with such heinous crimes. Ensuring that the offenders of sexual harassment are punished can only create this fear. Only by ensuring strict punishment to the criminal who commits sexual harassment that crime against women can be checked. For this the government, public intellectuals, progressive sections of the society and all others has to stand for this cause to ensure that such cases are being investigated and the offender is strictly punished according to the law of the land.
The GMC case of molestation is also a case where the accused seems to have some powerful people on his side, which many fear would might lead to his going unpunished. If this happens owing to his powerful status it will create a sense of alienation, misgiving and disbelief among the citizens and particularly among Ladakhis towards the law which might further distance them from the mainstream. The deafening silence of the state government and the lukewarm response so far is sending a wrong message. The government should rather address this matter as a benchmark for the future offenders. So that it would help instill a gender sensitive society and build the confidence of the ordinary citizens in the state and the Ladakhi population in particular.
(Chhewang Dorje is Research Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)