A group of 165 Indian scientists have spoken out against sexual harassment in laboratories. They said the field is especially dangerous for women because of the structure of authority in scientific research. They have also urged the community to support the eight complainants who have accused a professor at the Jawaharalal Nehru University’s School of Life Sciences of sexual harassment.
Eight students have accused Professor Atul Johri of sexual harassment. He was arrested on Wednesday, four days after a police complaint was filed. However, he was granted bail soon after, leading to protests over the last week.
The scientists observed that the complaints against Johri span several years and “point to a pattern that appears to be specific to the nature of working conditions for women in scientific labs in India”. They called upon the science community to address sexism, prejudice and harassment, and asked them to support the eight women who have accused Johri of sexual misconduct.
Here is the full text of their statement:
The recent allegations of sexual harassment that have been brought up against a professor at the School of Life Sciences in the Jawaharlal Nehru University by not one, but several women students, have 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, points to a pattern that appears to be specific to the nature of working conditions for women in scientific labs in India. While not every science lab in the country is an unsafe space for women, yet to think of this 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 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.
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. It is 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.
We call upon Indian scientists, and women scientists in particular, to support the young complainants’ quest for justice, and to further this effort to publicly acknowledge and spread awareness on this extremely serious issue.