Former and current students from Tribhuvan University chastised the university administration for failing to adequately address concerns about sexual harassment at an interaction programme on Monday at the central campus in Kirtipur.
Ushakiran Timsena, a former student leader from Tribhuvan University, castigated the culture of silence and indifference that had allowed sexual harassment to go unchecked at the country’s biggest and oldest university, telling university officials that they needed to have a mechanism in place to address such concerns.
Shova Bam, a current student at the university’s Department of Education, told professors at the programme how worse the safety situation must be for students at colleges outside Kathmandu, if she, a student at the university’s central campus, didn’t feel safe.
As the criticism continued, Vice-chancellor Tirtha Raj Khaniya admitted that they had not done enough to address sexual harassment concerns and said that he was ready to take steps to do better.
Khaniya’s admission comes weeks after he told the Post that the university’s hands were tied because the former students who had accused a university lecturer of sexual harassment had failed to register a complaint. Speaking to the Post in January, Khaniya had said there was no need for the university to draft a sexual harassment policy since the “country’s laws are enough to deal with the issue.”
More than 50 people, mostly students, former students, head of departments had gathered at the central campus in Kirtipur to start a conversation about sexual harassment in the wake of articles and media reports about continued harassment by Krishna Bahadur Bhattachan, a senior university lecturer. The university administration’s refusal to adequately address the harassment and take measures for redress, along with the silence of student unions, had pushed them to take initiative themselves to demand a separate, independent mechanism to deal with such concerns, said the organisers.
Speaking to the Post, former student leader Manushi Yami Bhattarai, who was part of the organising team, said that it was time for the university to take concrete steps to address sexual harassment.
“This isn’t just about the two professors accused of sexual harassment by half a dozen students,” said Bhattarai. “It’s about power structures at the university that need to be addressed, which ultimately impact both the students and faculty members who are less powerful.”
Last month, the Post reported how Bhattachan had harassed a number of students from the university’s Department of Sociology for years. The allegations against Bhattachan, an influential academic and indigenous rights activist, ranged from him making lewd remarks to inappropriately touching them during advisory sessions at his residence. Following the report and the university’s inaction, international academics from the UK had released a statement about their concerns regarding the university’s apathy.
Last week, the university suspended Baubalal Sah, assistant dean at the Faculty of Education, for allegedly misbehaving with a woman at the central campus.
At the event on Monday, Bhattarai said that during their time at the university, she and other student leaders had not been able to do much to address similar issues from mostly female students as the university lacked a strong institutional mechanism.
University Rector Sudha Tripathi said the discussion would help make things easier for her to move towards putting a system in place to handle these concerns.
“We can build a mechanism of redress within the university to handle grievances related to sexual harassment,” said Tripathi, “and we will build it soon.”
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March 25, 2021