On November 28, an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) instituted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) issued recommendations against an individual accused of sexually assaulting a former male student in its Mumbai campus.
The incident had allegedly occurred in early 2017, and the survivor reported it to the TISS authorities after the Supreme Court judgement of September 6 striking down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The individual who allegedly committed the assault, Abhijan Gupta, is associated with an international art forum, and was visiting the institute for a conference when the incident reportedly took place.
According to the ICC’s recommendations, Gupta has been “debarred for life” from entry into the TISS campuses, and form associations and collaborations with TISS projects, conferences and seminars, and must submit a letter of apology to the survivor. The committee has also recommended action against a faculty member who was reportedly informed of the assault, but failed to bring it to the notice of the proper authorities. This is the first instance of such a university committee taking up a case of sexual assault of a man.
Gupta was in TISS to attend a conference titled “Aesthetics and the Political in Contemporary India: Deleuzian Explorations” that was organised by the institute’s Centre for Social Theory in February 2017 when he and the survivor reportedly connected on a social media application. According to testimony submitted by the survivor to the committee, he went to meet Gupta in the hall where the conference was taking place, and Gupta invited him to the building’s terrace. On the terrace, Gupta forced himself on the survivor. He allegedly forcefully penetrated the survivor, and left him with multiple bruises and torn clothes, according to the testimony. The survivor was reportedly found by two of his friends, both members of the TISS Queer Collective, who are believed to have taken him to a flat off-campus to administer first aid. He reportedly told both his friends an account of what had happened, which both corroborated to this reporter. Gupta also reportedly messaged him on the social media application soon after the incident, enquiring about his well-being, and apologising when told that his actions were violent. This reporter has seen screenshots of these text messages, exchanged minutes after the assault. In an email that Gupta later sent to the survivor, he reportedly apologised once again. He was quoted by The Indian Express as saying “I did not realise that my advances were not wanted.”
The survivor reportedly went on to inform a faculty member – Prof P Mondal – who had organised the conference, about the incident. The professor allegedly advised him not to file a legal complaint however, for fear of himself facing action under Section 377, and informed him that he would “blacklist” Gupta.
In an email sent to the survivor after he reported the issue, Mondal reportedly apologised for his actions. The committee’s recommendations state that “a memo will be issued by the [institute] Director to the mentioned faculty [Mondal] for not taking a serious note of the incident, not bringing it to the notice of the Gender Amity Committee, to his Dean or any Institute authority. This failure of the faculty in not following the necessary procedure puts the Institute in breach of its statutory obligations. Resultant appropriate proceedings as per service rules ought to follow.”
When contacted, TISS authorities declined to comment. The survivor, who had stated in his testimony that “as young queer folks, who are exploring our sexuality, and politics, we often tend to stay quiet, and let people of power exploit us”, told this reporter that he is satisfied with the committee’s recommendations.