IIMB top official accused of sexually harassing doctor

The Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIMB) is caught in a bind over the alleged sexual harassment of a lady doctor, who was working as a medical officer there, by the institute’s chief administrative officer (CAO).

Accusing the institute of ‘covering up’ the two-year-old incident and sheltering the CAO, volunteers of Vimochana, a women’s rights forum, staged a protest in front of the IIMB campus on Thursday demanding immediate disciplinary action against the CAO.

It is alleged that Indu Shekar Vassit had made unwelcome sexual overtures to the medical officer. Despite ignoring them initially, the harassment continued and only increased after she faced sexual intimidations, sexist comments and received sexually loaded messages, making it difficult for her to perform her duties.

Unable to bear the hostile work atmosphere, the medical officer complained to the chairperson of the Gender Sensitivity Committee (GSC) of the IIMB in November 2010 and to the director and dean of the institute a month later. Though the institute changed the reporting officer, the CAO allegedly continued to intimidate her in retaliation for the complaint lodged against him.

Before an inquiry by the GSC could begin, the institute reportedly terminated the services of the medical officer on January 30, 2012, on the charges that she was not performing her duties satisfactorily.

A Supreme Court direction states that a complainant of sexual harassment should not be victimised.  However, the perpetrator could be transferred. Even the IIMB’s procedure of the GSC says that the complaint shall not adversely affect the complainant’s status. But the medical officer’s services were terminated.

The medical officer told Deccan Herald that she was aware that the GSC had submitted its inquiry report in August this year to the director with a recommendation for the final disposal. “Till date, no final orders on the inquiry report have been given by the director.
But a copy has been given to the CAO, though he never attended any of the GSC proceedings. He was neither suspended nor transferred, which gave him an opportunity to manipulate and intimidate the witnesses using his position,” she said.

The medical officer said she did not report the incident to the police as the IIMB rules prohibited a staff member from going out of the campus to file a complaint. However, now that she no longer works in the institute, she is planning to register a formal police complaint.

Dona Fernandes of Vimochana said it was unfortunate that an employee of such a prestigious institute as the IIMB had sexually harassed a woman. “It was even more outrageous to know that none of the top management officials wished to respond to it. It looks like a perfect cover-up act,” she said.

Counter protest

Following the Vimochana protest, IIMB employees, including Group D workers, staged a counter-protest holding placards stating that the medical officer’s petition was dismissed by the High Court.

Ramachandra, the union leader, said the IIMB workers had come out to save the image of the institute, which was being tarnished by the Vimochana protesters.

Uday Kumar, information officer, IIMB, who addressed the protesters, said he would co-ordinate a meeting with the officials of the management shortly. In its response, the IIMB said that “the entire processing of the case had not been completed. Once it is done, all the parties concerned will be informed and provided with relevant information.”

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