‘We All Feel Scared’: NIFT Hyderabad Student Speaks About Sexual Harassment Case

In October 2018, Ratna Kumari, a staff supervisor at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Hyderabad filed a complaint with the police against D. Srinivas Reddy, a stenographer with the institution.

“Srinivas used to sexually harass women employees who would attend to his cabin. He would hold the women staff by their hips, click their photographs without consent and invite them home to sleep with him,” she told The News Minute.

After the case surfaced, the women were continuously threatened by NIFT authorities to compromise in order to safeguard their jobs. To ensure the women did not remain on campus, the authorities picked faults with their work and alleged that the staff were lethargic.

By June 2019, a total of 56 women had come forward with similar allegations against the accused. The women took to the streets to protest the management’s alleged inaction in their sexual harassment complaint and demanded the accused’s resignation.

A day after the protest, all 56 of them were dismissed despite following due process. Meanwhile, Reddy has been working on the campus since the first complaint in October of last year.

However, on June 20, all the women were reinstated to work after the tender demanding the termination of all the existing workers and deploying a new workforce, was invalidated.

Amid the widespread coverage of the event and the social media outrage against the visible lack of action by the authorities, LiveWire spoke to a student from NIFT Hyderabad. There’s an evident absence of a student perspective in the situation, seeing as they are the ones engaging with all the aspects involved – the female staff, the administration and, in turn, the accused.

The second-year student, who prefers to remain anonymous, talked about how the series of events affected her and her friends.

Did you know anything about the issue or its extent before it was on the news? What was your and your friends’ reaction after you found out about the allegations?

The first incident happened in October last year and the second one happened in June. However, for both, the students weren’t on college premises because we had holidays. That is why most of us got our information through Instagram or WhatsApp.

We didn’t really get to know about the extent of the issue with just the first incident. There were only a few articles and a short interview of the women who had complained, but they weren’t as clear about it as they are now.

Most of the things that were said on the news in October don’t exactly go along with what is being said now. Back then, they said things like, “He forces us to work more or clean this clean that,” etc. but never clearly mentioned the sexual harassment part.

At that time, there wasn’t a lot of uproar about this, but now it’s a lot. A lot of people are putting up things on social media. The events this month hit all of us a lot more than the first one. To see all these women get sacked for no reason just got to everyone. Plus, these women aren’t well-to-do which makes it worse.

How do you feel about the accused, Srinivas Reddy, still being a part of the college administration?

We all thought he would probably get fired. But he came back after a short time, which was really shocking.

We all feel scared to see him around, and sometimes it just gets awkward when we pass him by in the corridor. But there are a lot of people in college that still don’t know what to believe because of the severe lack of proper official information.

Do you think, as a student body, there is some way you can help the workers?

I do believe as a student body, we could do something, but we don’t have that kind of unity among us. Unlike in a liberal arts college, there’s no established student body or union that would make it easier to coordinate and organise a campaign or protest in support of the workers.

Another problem is that most of the people in my college are outstation students, which means that there were hardly any people in Hyderabad when the incident happened. And there is only so much that can be done through social media.

There was a form being sent around through WhatsApp which had to be signed by people, but that did not have much effect. Further, since everyone is more or less misinformed or has less information about the whole thing, there’s not much that people are willing to do.

You mentioned that not being a liberal arts college, people aren’t as invested in this. Could you elaborate on that?

My college is not a liberal arts college, and so the student body here isn’t as vocal as the rest of the country. In Delhi, I feel students are more outspoken and there is a sense of solidarity against such incidents, but that’s not the case in Hyderabad.

First of all, there is a very small population here that is aware of the gravity of the situation and is even willing to stand up against it. Another problem is that most students feel afraid of speaking their mind because if they do, it usually gets reflected in their grades and the way they get treated in class by the faculty.

I actually knew a lot of the women personally and they’ve always been there to help us, especially us hostellers. They really don’t deserve this. I feel like they’ve been trapped in this whole thing.

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