A prominent Labour party lawmaker has accused one of her Indian-origin lecturers at York University in northeast England of sexual harassment decades ago in a new autobiography to be published on Thursday. Harriet Harman, UK’s longest continuously serving woman MP, writes in ‘A Woman’s Work’ that professor TV Sathyamurthy, who taught politics at the varsity, had offered to give her a better grade if she agreed to have sex with him in the 1970s.
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“Towards the end of my time at York, one of my tutors, TV Sathyamurthy, called me in to talk about my final degree. He told me that I was borderline between a 2:1 and a 2:2 but that if I had sex with him it would definitely be a 2:1,” she writes in her memoir, a preview copy of which was seen by PTI. “I found him repulsive and had no doubt that, if that was what it took to get a 2:1, I’d settle for a 2:2. I had no commitment to the course and my family’s hopes were not pinned on my achieving any academic distinction, so I had no hesitation in repelling his advances,” notes the 66-year-old, who has been an MP from southeast London since 1982.
Despite rejecting the alleged advances, Harman writes, she went on to get a 2:1, equivalent to a first division, anyway.
Sathyamurthy was born in Chennai in 1929 and studied at the Banaras Hindu University before moving to the US and then Britain, which he made his home in 1967. He authored a number of books on politics, including a series titled ‘Social Change and Political Discourse in India’, died in York in 1998.
His ex-wife, poet and author Carole Satyamurti, described him as a “highly principled” man who would have in no way made such an offer in all seriousness. “From my knowledge of him, there is no way he would, in all seriousness, have offered higher marks for sex in the way Harman describes,” she told PTI.
“Sathya was an exuberant, brilliant man who liked provoking people. He was also highly principled. Nearly 20 years after his death, there is clearly no way of knowing what happened. I am not accusing Ms Harman of making the story up. But my guess is that, as a somewhat heavy-going and humourless young woman, she misconstrued what was meant as a provocative joke, and took Sathya’s remarks literally,” said Satyamurti, the author of ‘Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling’. She also described Harman’s decision to refer to her ex-husband by name in the book years after his death as “ethically despicable”.
“Sathya obviously cannot give his version of the event. The pain caused to his family, his daughter in particular, seems completely gratuitous. Perhaps Harman’s publisher pressed her to provide a name with a view to stirring prurient interest in the book. Whatever the reason, I find what she has done ethically despicable,” she added.
But Harman found that a friend who was on the same politics course had a similar experience with the professor.
“She didn’t dare risk returning home with a 2:2 and so had succumbed to his pressure to have sex with him. It was only years later that we discovered he’d tried the same thing with both of us,” writes Harman, who graduated from the course in 1972.
The Labour party’s former deputy leader goes on to explain that at the time neither of them had considered telling anyone else. “There wasn’t anyone to complain to, he’d only deny it, and though it was vile, it seemed to be just the way things were,” she says.
York University described the allegations published in the new book as “extremely concerning”. “Behaviour of the sort described by Ms Harman would constitute gross misconduct and would lead to dismissal,” a spokesperson said.