In the wake of the sexual harassment allegations against Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor Atul Johri, a section of scientists from across the country have condemned the incident and called for blacklisting of such accused from serving on scientific committees, receiving funding, awards and election to academies.
It is alleged that Atul Johri, had been sexually harassing at least eight women students of the School of Life Sciences of the varsity since 2014.
Issuing a statement, a group of 165 scientists across the country said the recent incident has once again trained the spotlight on the issue of sexual harassment in science labs. “That the alleged incidents span several years and multiple victims, all students/project employees point to a pattern that appears to be specific to the nature of working conditions for women in scientific labs in India.”
Pointing out that not every science lab in the country is an unsafe space for women, the scientists said to think of JNU incident of sexual misconduct as an isolated case of an individual wrongdoing would be an “oversimplification and an understatement of the problem.”
“By no imagination is sexual harassment at the workplace exclusive to the world of scientific research, yet some features of how science is organised, makes its authority structure especially perilous for women. Scientific research in India, particularly its higher echelons, remain predominantly the preserve of men. What adds to this power and authority is the need for mobilising large amounts of funding required for experimental research which the scientist or laboratory head provides,” the statement said.
The scientists also maintained that the absence of women in decision-making bodies, their lack of adequate representation in committees and academies all come together to create an environment in which women and their concerns all appear marginal to the “serious business” of the Scientific Enterprise.
“While the growing numbers of women in the university has encouraged serious reflections and engagements with the gender question in humanities and social sciences, the world of science has remained unaffected and unwilling to question its ways of doing things,” they said.
“With the numbers of women enrolling for science degrees often exceeding that of men in recent years, many of whom aspire for careers in scientific research, there is an urgent need for Indian science to address issues of sexism, prejudice and harassment,” they added.
The scientists further said it was time that Indian science woke up to its changing social reality and gives up its business-as-usual attitude. “It is also time to hear from the Indian science academies and funding bodies clear policies of inclusion and representation. In addition, sexual misconduct should not only be condemned, it should invite black-listing from serving on scientific committees, receiving funding, awards and election to academies,” the statement concluded.