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IIT Madras lecturer found guilty of sexual harassment, yet to be demoted

IIT-M Director Bhaskar Ramamurthi approved the associate professor’s demotion on October 15, 2020, but action is yet to be taken.

An associate professor of the Civil Engineering Department at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, who was found guilty of sexually harassing a woman research scholar more than three months ago, is yet to be demoted. A five-member committee headed by Professor Hema A Murthy held the professor guilty of making sexual advances to his student. The committee recommended that the lecturer be demoted. 

The committee conducted two meetings on August 21, 2020 and September 8, 2020. IIT-M Director Bhaskar Ramamurthi approved the recommendations of the committee on October 15.

The investigation was based on a complaint by a woman PhD research scholar who accused Associate Professor Mathava Kumar of making sexual advances and misusing his power. IIT’s internal complaints committee against sexual harassment (CCASH) met and recorded statements and evidences of both parties. The committee then concluded that Mathava Kumar made sexual advances for a temporary relationship by misusing his position as guide and the woman being a single parent.

According to reports, the committee, based on WhatsApp conversations, said that he asked her to visit his home during the pandemic for thesis correction, which could have been done through a video call. He asked her to cook for him as a personal favour. He also commented on her mannerisms, which violated her privacy and personal space, the committee said. The complainant also said that he indulged in character assassination and pursued her through other students.

The CCASH recommended that Mathava Kumar be barred from taking classes for PhD students for two years and female students for five years. They also recommended that the associate professor be demoted and made to undergo training and sensitisation against workplace sexual harassment.

The committee also stated that the complainant did not reveal this earlier since she wanted to complete her course and get a better job. She had also requested for a change of guide, it noted.

Even though the committee’s recommendations were approved, Mathava Kumar’s name continues to be on the IIT website as an associate professor. He still has nine PhD scholars including women pursuing their PhD under his guidance, according to reports.

When asked, IIT-M Director Bhaskar Ramamurthy refused to comment on the issue. The media cell of IIT only said that the proceedings of CCASH were confidential.

Source: The News Minute