Dec 26, 2018-
Earlier this month, The Record published a harrowing account of two former Tribhuvan University (TU) students who said they had been sexually harassed by a professor during private meetings.
Sociology students Nisha Shah and Manisha Lamsal, who co-authored the piece, described how each of them had been harassed by the same professor on two separate occasions when they met with him individually to discuss academics and career prospects.
“He held my hand, touching me softly, and said ‘mehendi looks beautiful on your hands’,” Shah wrote of her experience. “The fact that he had touched me without my consent made me uncomfortable.”
Shah initially thought she was overreacting, she wrote. But then the professor—who was supervising her Master’s thesis—kept touching her hands repeatedly and went on to open a porn website on the laptop they were working on. “I was terrified,” she wrote.
Similarly, Lamsal described how during a meeting to discuss her scholarship application, the professor told her lewd jokes, pressed her thighs and tried to hug her. When she fended off his attempt, he stuck his tongue in her ears.
“I was aghast and shouted ‘K gareko?!’ [what are you doing]. He simply said ‘I’m giving you my best wishes’,” Lamsal wrote.
Speaking to the Post, Shah said, the incident which took place in February 2017 left her severely disturbed. She said she had shared what had transpired with a few of her colleagues at work but was advised to not go public.
“He was powerful and those around us were concerned about the repercussions we may face for telling our story,” said Shah.
The two however felt they had to speak their truth, said Shah. The professor whose identity was not disclosed is “a renowned, veteran intellectual who has spent more than half of his life advocating for social justice and gender equality”, according to the piece.
Since the piece was published, the two have received a lot of support online, with many commending the two for their bravery in going public with their story.
Most of the feedback they’ve received has been positive, Shah told the Post. But there have been a few critics who’ve raised issues over their decision to not identify the accused.
“Some people have accused us of making up the story in order to gain fame,” said Shah. “But because he is such an influential person, we’re just worried he’ll try to sabotage us and twist our story.”
Although the professor, Shah said, is now retired from TU, he still teaches part-time at private colleges and gets invited to speak at many prestigious events including UN forums.
Shah said they are still mulling over whether to disclose the identity of the professor or not.
On one hand, they are starting to think it’s vital to name the person for there to be any action taken against him. On the other, they are nervous about the repercussions doing so may bring.
Except for a professor who wrote to express support, the girls said they have not been contacted by any senior official from the university to discuss their article.
Tribhuvan University Vice-chancellor Tirth Raj Khaniya told the Post that he had not read the published piece and thus was unaware of what the students had gone through.
“Had they come to us directly we would have taken action against the said professor after due process,” said Khaniya.
When the Post asked him if the university had any specific policy regarding sexual harassment, he said, “we take such complaints very seriously” without further elaboration. Meanwhile, Shah said the two have received several messages from other female students who had similar experiences with the professor.
“It’s not just the two of us who have been harassed,” said Shah. “There are a lot of students who were harassed by this professor but they are just afraid to come forward.”