Last year, a young girl was violated inside a police chowky at Marine Drive. Public outrage boiled over and in a rare instance of justice not being denied but speedily delivered, Constable Sunil More was convicted for his heinous crime.
This week, another young girl claims to have been violated at the opposite end of Marine Drive. By her professor.
However, in this case the 'crime' is difficult to establish. There is no semen, no torn clothes, no witness. The girl claims the professor made lewd advances. He flatly denies the charge. The college stands by him.
So what does the girl do? She goes to the NSUI and gets 'justice' in another form:
TOI reports: National Students' Union of India (NSUI) supporters on Friday stormed the Wilson College staff-room and dragged biology professor Vilas Athwale to the Gamdevi police station after blackening his face and hanging a garland of chappals around his neck. The act, unprecedented in Mumbai, followed a girl's accusation that Athwale had molested her in college last year.
Looking at an 'elderly uncle' type dragged through the streets does not make a pretty picture. Which is precisely why it made such big news. And raises a deeply ethical dilemma.
In a democracy it is believed that any man is innocent until proven guilty. If Prof Athawale is innocent, then this is a gross injustice.
But what if he is guilty and yet there is no way to 'prove' it? What's more, public humiliation might even serve a larger social purpose. Because 'elderly uncle' type professors behaving in an inappropriate manner with female students is a rampant problem.
It's invisible because victims rarely come forward.
In America, 20 to 30 percent of undergraduate female students claim they've been victims of some form of sexual harassment by at least one of their professors during their undergraduate years.
There are no statistics in India, but I am pretty sure they would be equally high.
The 'truth' is out there
Here is the Wilson story so far. The victim, speaking to DNA recounts the incident which took place in August 2005:
I was standing near the college gate when the vice-principal, Professor Parkar, confiscated my phone. Professor Athawale paid the Rs 200 fine on my behalf and asked me to collect the phone from him the next day. I met him in a passage that is hardly used by students or staff. We were talking when he began moving closer to me and suddenly grabbed my hand, saying ‘I love you… I love you’. I pushed past him and ran away.
I immediately told my parents about the incident. The next day, my father and a family friend met professor Parkar, who defended professor Athawale, saying he was a senior faculty member with impeccable credentials.
After three days, Parkar said that the principal wanted to meet my father. Instead, Professor Bal Nerurkar, from the department of mathematics, and Professor Parkar met my father. Although Professor Athawale never spoke to me again, I came to know that Professor Nerurkar had been circulating nasty rumours about me. They tampered with my attendance and failed me in mathematics to make me appear an insincere student. I approached the Students’ Council in February 2006.
So it can't be said the girl 'did nothing' at the time she claims the incident actually took place. She did, first of all, go home and tell her parents. What could be her motivation for 'making up' such a story?
What's more, she did not press the matter until she obtained a leaving certificate from the college, which makes sense as well.
The political angle
What puts a blot on the case credibility is the involvement of the NSUI. As we all know, 'student' wings of political parties are hardly representatives of students. No student who is actually interested in studies joins ABVP or NSUI.
Real students are worried about jobs, about admissions, about quality of education. They want better facilities, more opportunities, accountability from the system. When was the last time you heard NSUI or ABVP raise their voice and/ or create an impact on such issues?
Granted, a sexual harassment case is a serious issue as well. But is rabble rousing and blackening someone's face the way to 'deal' with it? Because that seems to be the preferred modus operandi.
Instead of lobbying at a policy level to get student issues addressed by their respective parties, the 'youth' wings prefer to pick up an emotive issue or two, create a tamasha and earn a few brownie points with their senior counterparts.
The 'youth' wing thus serves as a kind of training ground for goondaism and other tricks of the trade. Wilson college claims that the NSUI had been pressurising the college to admit a few students, which the management has refused. Hence NSUI has taken up this cause - to malign the institution.
Sadly, that is completely believable. Although it does not mean the student's case may not have merit...
Role of the media
Lastly, one has to wonder about how easy it is to make 'news' today. And how self conscious the police has become in the presence of the media.
Additional police commissioner D Kanakratnam said to the press: "We will not tolerate those who take law into their own hands and we will ensure that Aboli (NSUI leader) is punished for his misdeeds."
But the fact is that this parading of the professor happened under the very eyes of the police. On TV, you could clearly see that the police was practically escorting the crowd instead of breaking it up.
Perhaps they had instructions not to create a lafda after their teargas and lathi charge on students during the anti reservation protest created a major embarassment.
In a rare show of sensitivity, a few TV channels pixellated Prof Athawale's face. However, the newspapers had no such qualms and went ahead published his picture.
So everywhere you look, it's grey and more grey...
And now, another class 12 student of Wilson college has come forward and alleged that she too was sexually harassed by the same professor.
Mumbai Mirror reports: The professor had tried to touch her and other female students while they were in the laboratory. According to her the incidents were frequent but she did not complain to the principal as she was scared of being expelled from college or being failed.
All I can say is, this raises a serious new dimension... The truth can be found, if you look hard enough. The question is, can we hold up to the mirror to ourselves and acknowledge the ugly side of human nature?
Authority figures preying on young students is an ugly reality. Uglier still is everyone being fully aware that X or Y professor is a pervert and yet looking away.
And ugliest of all is the rare case where a false accusation is made, destroying a man's reputation forever...