A Fight for Justice
Team MM | Jun 10, 2016
NIT Rourkela towards the end of May witnessed a series of events that left us to introspect the state of security and accountability in the institute. Protests were launched, slogans were shouted, complaints were registered and negotiations were done. All to bring justice to those who have been oppressed by an individual entitled to protect them. While the revelation, was appalling it certainly was clouded with rumours. Keeping sentiments aside, Team MM spoke to both parties in order to bring the real picture of the series of events that shook NITR in over a week.
According to the media and a letter submitted by a group of PhD Students in the middle of the winter vacations of the academic session 2015-16, Chief Security Officer Balaram Champatiray had instructed one of the security guards who reported to him, to stand in salutation under the sun, continuously for a stretch of 30 minutes. The PhD scholars objected to this punishment meted out by the Chief Security Officer and took it up with the administration. The media was however not informed about the incident keeping in mind the institute’s reputation. The Director said,
“The issue was taken up with Champatiray. He said that such sort of punishments are common in army and that since he couldn’t deduct their salary that was the only option he had. However, we asked him to make sure that such punishments are not given in public and also that the level of punishments should not be against the human dignity”
As per data collected from a female security guard whose identity is being kept anonymous, during the same time it came into light that there were various illicit activities being carried out by the Chief Security Officer, without the knowledge of the administration or higher authorities. The students once again approached the director. Speaking about the actions taken, Prof. Sarangi said that, “The picture quality in the letter submitted to me wasn’t clear. However Prof. S.K. Upadhaya who was then in charge of the CSO did talk to him but Champatiray dismissed the matter saying that it was all rubbish. Alleging someone of sexual misbehaviour in the workplace requires concrete proof and since we didn’t have any, we didn’t take any further action.” However, the response from the director to the issue had led to considerable dissatisfaction among the students and the students then decided that they would not deliberate with the administration without concrete proof.
They consequently started investigating and soon found out that these acts were being performed in the office itself. In mid-March a video came to the fore that showed Champatiray with another lady officer in a compromising position. However, the location of the incident in the video wasn’t clearly visible and it was dismissed.A video was then recorded by some of the female security guards, with the help of a pen camera and the assistance of unnamed sources that captured Champatiray doing similar acts with another lady officer, in the premises of his office.
On the 19th of May, 2016 a group of PhD students approached the director along with the aforementioned video and snapshots from it. The Director instructed the students to write a letter to him, and assured them that strict action would be taken if the CSO is found guilty.The students informed the director that if this too was dismissed like the incident in winter, they would inform the NITR Junta as well as the media, despite the director’s disapproval of it and would start a peaceful protest. Clarifying their actions, Amiya Singh, a PhD scholar later stated that,
“The CSO had been exploiting the lady gardeners and sweepers and then the lady security officers from the last ten years or so.Despite a hectic schedule and other restrictions we invested our time and money to some extent in investigating the issue for the last 180 days. Now even though we had concrete proof, we had completely lost faith in the administration and hence took to protesting peacefully”
In the Open House Discussion organized by the institute, the Director however said that the students had asked time for a day or two after which they would inform the authorities about the actions that the students intended to take. He further added the students were equally concerned about the damage that the news could cause to the institute’s reputation if the issue was reflected in the media. However they wanted stringent action to be taken against the CSO. While he was eagerly waiting for them to arrive, he later discovered on the 25th of May, 2016 that students had already started protesting in front of the Bhubaneshwara Behera Auditorium. The students circulated pamphlets describing the heinous acts being performed by Champatiray over the last few years and demanded his immediate expulsion.The Director however did not have the authority to dismiss an officer and said that the action had to be taken up by the Board of Governors. Prof. Sarangi issued three letters on the same day which stated the following:
1. Shri Champatiray has to immediately hand over all his responsibilities to Prof. U.K. Mishra and he is requested not to come to the hostel area or the academic area.
2. The company which provides the security services should not make any form of suspension/transfers/dismissals/penalties without the consent of the Director.
3. A high power committee named the Fact Finding Committee (FFC) was set up to look into the matter consisting of Prof. B. Majhi, Prof. K.C. Pati, Prof. B. B. Bishwal, Prof. C. R. Patra, Prof. Susmita Das and Prof. Seemita Mohanty who were instructed to find out about the exact scenario and submit a preliminary report within two days and the final one within a week to the Director based upon which he would take a decision.
If either the students or Champatiray were not satisfied with the decision, the Board of Governors would take a decision. If either party was still unsatisfied, an appeal could be made to the President of India. On being asked about the level of punishment on day one Prof. Sarangi said, “As per the rulebook it varies from warning to dismissal from service with or without the permission to apply for another job.”
Speaking on why the suspension order was not issued on the first day itself, the director clarified that,
“A suspension on day one was definitely possible. However in a civilised society every person, including a criminal has the right to fairness. We cannot and should not brand him as a criminal unless he is proven guilty by the court of law. Even though the protestors claimed that the acts have been continuing since last five years, there was no concrete proof available on day one and hence we took time to issue the suspension”
A preliminary report was submitted by the FFCon the 27th May, 2016 and a suspension was issued on the same day. It was expected that the protests would discontinue after the suspension was issued however the protests continued. In an interview to Monday Morning, Parth, a protestor claimed that the FFC in its preliminary report found the evidence to be sufficient enough to not only suspend Champatiray but also lodge an FIR against him. On the following day the director received another letter where in the protestors demanded that an FIR should be lodged against Champatiray. On the 29th of May, 3:30 am the director along with Assisstant Registrar Anand Babu met with the students along with an application addressed to the Sector-3 Police Station requesting them to take action, as dictated by the state laws, for the following:
a. Indecent and highly objectionable activities of Shri Champatiray and his female companions in the office premises.
b. Assembly, slogan shouting and coercion of the administration by a group of NIT students led by Shri Amiya Singh that created a public nuisance.
c. Public Distribution of the obscene materials by the T.V. channels and newspapers.
d. Publicising indecent and socially objectionable materials on paper and handling over of the obscene materials to the respective channels by the student protestors led by Shri Amiya Singh
Prof Sarangi also said that, “We cannot declare the same act or a video of the act as bad for Champatiray and good enough to be publicised by the media. Both were at fault the T.V. Channel who publicised it as well as Champatiray who had indulged in it. “
The students continued their protests because of the following two reasons:
a. Any action against the victims would discourage them from coming forward and reporting the incidents to the Fact Finding Committee as this may lead to their expulsion.
b. Disclosure of the names of a few protestors which might put their career and lives in danger.
Expressing his helplessness over the situation the director stated that,
“Even after we set up an investigation committee and issued a suspension, the protests didn’t stop. Students now asked for an FIR and this gave me an impression that they don’t have any respect for the institute’s protocol. Since statements could not be collected from all the 200 protesting students, we asked a few of them to come forward and in no way took them as the representatives.I assure you that these six students are not at any more danger than the other students at the hands of the police or administration. Since the protests didn’t end and they demanded for doing things immaturely, we took the step.”
Meanwhile the application was revised and another one was sent to the Sector-3 Police Station. Since two lady security guards had already lodged a complaint against the CSO, the institute's application was accepted as a supporting document. Taking action upon the complaints, the Police searched for Champatiray at five different residences. While Champatiray was found absconding, the director informed the NITR populace during the discussion that he had received a mail from Champatiray stating that due to urgent work he has returned to his native place and would return as soon as possible. Answering to the query of why no official complaint was launched from the institute’s side, Prof Sarangi said
“He has been forbidden from entering the academic area in addition to being suspended. Any person is permitted to apply for leave and he indeed informed us. He is abstaining from the police and the institute is under no compulsion to file an FIR against him.”
The FFC later pointed out that the suspension clearly states that the person cannot leave the NIT Campus. However the director said that the person is permitted to be within the headquarters (8km radius from NIT Campus). It is the police’s responsibility and not that of the authority to track him. The director further said,
“NIT Rourkela will not invest its human and financial resources to track Mr.Champatiray. We are not army or police. We are a civil organisation.”
The students continued their protests until the 1st of June when the director requested them to gather for an Open House Discussion. The protestors were highly dissatisfied that even though the matter had been brought up much earlier no precautions were taken to prevent them. The director asserted that, “An indicator did come to us however we cannot take cognizance of every indicator that pops up. It was definitely a failure on my part”. We think only in retrospect that all the previous signs were actually potent enough to investigate Champatiray. After a lot talk and deliberations in the discussion the students put forward the following demands:
a. A written assurance from the Senate that the career of the protesting students won’t be affected in any way.
b. The safety and anonymity of the victims will be assured at all times. They would not be expelled and would be provided compensation for the harassment they have faced.
c. The names of the students would also be kept anonymous in any future correspondence with the police or any other organisations outside the institute.
The Director assured that the demands would be taken care of and requested the students to return back to their respective work places and let the police take the necessary actions. The protest was then officially called off by Amiya Singh.
This incident is indeed shameful and should be marked in the lives of every NITian, however there is a need to understand that institutes of national importance do not consist of a single individual. Therefore such incidents should not be allowed to tarnish the image of our institute or allow people to foster any vile opinions about NITR. While there is definite need for urgent mitigation of the issue, it has to be as per the defined course of law and further intervention can only delay it. Sensationalizing such an issue calls for unwanted attention and irrecoverable harm to the reputation of our alma mater. This institute might be reeling under the heinous acts of a single individual, but it is defined by the hundreds of concerned and righteous students who put their career in jeopardy to ensure that the oppressed would have a voice of their own. Monday Morning as the Official Student Media Body of this institute took time to report the event primarily to prevent the circulation of any false allegations or rumours against any individual that could have led to further escalation of the situation and unnecessarily sensationalised the issue. We congratulate all parties involved for having reached a consensus and we sincerely hope that justice prevails.
The facts in the article are not the view of either Team MM or any single reporter, rather have been collected from official sources which include the following:
1. The Letter submitted to the Director in December, 2015.
2. The pamphlets distributed on the 25th of May, 2016.
3. Interviews with the Director and Protestors.
4. The Open House Discussion conducted on the 2nd June, 2016.