The campus of a private university in Punjab’s Mohali erupted in protests on Saturday night over “rumours” that objectionable videos of several women students had been recorded by a hosteler. Following the preliminary investigation, police arrested a woman student and a youth from Himachal Pradesh, and said she appeared to have shared videos with him of only herself.
Another person was later on Sunday taken from Himachal by the Punjab Police in connection with the case. As protests continued, amid apprehensions that police and the administration of Chandigarh University were trying to hush up the matter, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann ordered a high-level probe and promised “severest of severe action”. Punjab’s Additional Director General of Police Gurpreet Deo visited the university campus along with other senior officials to take stock, and to reassure students that they had found only videos of the arrested woman. Mann appealed to students not to fall prey to rumours.
There was chaos on the university campus on Saturday night as students poured out of hostel rooms to hold a protest and videos of “unconscious” women students being evacuated flooded social media, amid claims that some of them had committed suicide.
On Sunday, Mohali Deputy Commissioner Amit Talwar clarified that the suicide claims too had no truth, and some girls had just fainted in the melee and were provided medical assistance. As per the FIR registered against the accused student under Section 66-E of the IT Act and 354-C of the IPC, around 3 pm on Saturday, six girls approached their hostel warden to complain that they suspected their fellow student of filming them in the shower.
The manager of the hostel told the police that she called the accused and checked her cellphone but did not find any videos of other girls. “She denied filming other girls, but she was also continuously receiving calls from a number. I asked her to put her cellphone on speaker, and a man on the other side said, ‘Tell the boy to send the videos to me’. He also shared the screenshot of an objectionable video on her number.”
The manager said the accused student told her that she did not recognise the number from which the call came, and that the video the man had shared with her was the one she had sent to her Shimla-based friend.
The police later arrested the friend and are probing whether there was involvement of a third person. Himachal Pradesh DGP Sanjay Kundu said: “We have apprehended the said accused in the case. The person will be handed over to the Punjab Police.” Kundu added that on the request of their Punjab counterparts, a resident of Dhalli in Shimla was “asked to stay at the local police station”. “Now, Punjab Police has also taken him with them in the above case to check for his involvement.”
A police officer said that as the news spread and the students gathered and raised slogans, they had trouble controlling the situation. University officials said they also talked to the students to calm them down.
But the protests starting again on Sunday evening, including at a nearby toll plaza, ignoring the assurances by Vice-Chancellor Anand Agrawal. Many students said the accused student had admitted to filming other women but the authorities were trying to hush up the matter. The university has suspended classes for two days.
Mohali SSP Vivek Sheel Soni said, “I want to make it clear that we did not find any video of other women.” Adding that this did not mean they were giving a clean chit to anyone, he said: “The prime accused has been arrested, we have confiscated the equipment.”
In an official statement, Chandigarh University Pro-Chancellor R S Bawa said, “There are rumours that seven girls have committed suicide, whereas the fact is that no girl has taken any such step. No girl has been admitted to hospital.”
He also denied claims that “60 objectionable MMSes have been found of different students”. “During the preliminary investigation conducted by the university, there have been no videos found of any student which are objectionable; except a personal video shot by a girl which was shared by herself with her friend,” the Pro-Chancellor said, adding that mobile phones and other material have been handed over to the police for further investigation.
Calling it a very sensitive matter, A S Kang, Dean, Students’ Welfare, Chandigarh University, said they take the utmost care to ensure the safety of women hostelers and their privacy. “No male is allowed inside, and any male maintenance staff is accompanied by the warden.”
Kang said the varsity had also requested the police to probe if there was a deliberate smear campaign against Chandigarh University, as it was the youngest private university in Asia to enter the QS rankings.
On the protests by students, he said officials had swung into action quickly. “Our officials along with police briefed the protesting students, who went back to their hostels.”
Rekha Sharma, Chairperson of the National Commission for Women, said they had taken serious note of the claims that police and university administration were trying to “cover up cases of suicide” and had written to the state police chief.
Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer, Higher Education, Punjab, tweeted that the matter was very sensitive and “it is my request not to forward any unsubstantiated news”. “There is no news of suicide by any girl student. I assure justice to University students, especially girls.”
Opposition leaders demanded a free and fair probe and exemplary punishment for the guilty.