Senior resident at Odisha medical college faces no action for sexual harassment despite ICC findings, FIR

12 February 2021
The building of the undergraduate hostel for nurses at the Srirama Chandra Bhanja Medical College and Hospital, in Odisha’s Cuttack city. The hostel houses the COVID-19 quarantine and isolation centre of the hospital. On 9 September 2020, a junior resident was sexually harassed at the isolation centre by a senior resident of the hospital, on the first day of her COVID-19 duty.
The building of the undergraduate hostel for nurses at the Srirama Chandra Bhanja Medical College and Hospital, in Odisha’s Cuttack city. The hostel houses the COVID-19 quarantine and isolation centre of the hospital. On 9 September 2020, a junior resident was sexually harassed at the isolation centre by a senior resident of the hospital, on the first day of her COVID-19 duty.

Less than three months after an internal complaints committee of a government medical college in Odisha prima facie held that Sarthak Patra, a senior resident in the institution, had sexually harassed a junior resident, he returned to work without facing any action. “First they said that he is missing,” the JR said, referring to the police’s investigation into her complaint. “After that, they said that he is not missing. Now, they said that they are finding grounds to arrest him.” The JR is employed at the Srirama Chandra Bhanja Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack. On 9 September 2020, Patra sexually harassed her, video recording her while she was in the bathroom, and was caught doing so in CCTV footage. Five months later, the JR is disillusioned with the college authorities and the local police. “He has come back to the campus. He is working normally,” she said.

The survivor told me that the incident happened in the bathroom of a nursing hostel of the campus—she was changing when she noticed a phone above the wall of the bathroom, which was recording her. “On 10 September, we caught him,” she said. “I saw him in the CCTV footage. We all recognised him.” She identified Patra and that evening, the JR and members of the Junior Doctors Association—a student body on the campus—confronted Patra and recorded the proceedings. Patra accepted his guilt on camera, while reading out from a written statement. The next day, the survivor filed a written complaint with the college principal who set up an internal complaints committee on 14 September. The JR said that she was unhappy with committee’s attitude towards her complaint and hence filed a complaint at the local police station at Mangalabag on 16 September. The police registered a first-information report against her complaint that same day.

The ICC’s report, submitted on 19 September, clearly states “the committee is of the view that the incident appears to be primafacie case as alleged by the complainant … that the matter may be forwarded to the IIC Mangalabag for further action.” The ICC referred the case to the inspector in-charge of the Mangalabag police station. Despite this, the college has not taken any disciplinary action against Patra. Patra did not appear before the committee and it is unclear if he ever submitted any response to the ICC. In the week following the incident, Patra stopped coming to college but he rejoined sometime in mid-November. The police, too, has made no progress in the case, in spite of the CCTV recording that shows Patra entering and running away from the women’s bathroom on 9 September, and the video recording where he admitted filming the JR. When I first spoke to DKM Bhuyan, the police inspector in charge of the case, on 17 November, he said, “We don’t know his whereabouts. Once we do, we will arrest him.” However, now that Patra is back, the police has still not arrested him.

On 14 January 2021, Bhuyan told me that the investigation has been handed over to a senior official, Amitabh Mohapatra, inspector in-charge at the Mangalabag station. Amitabh told me, “We are investigating the case. We have seized the video.” He added that, “The deputy superintendent of police has taken over the investigation. He will make the arrest and produce him in court.” When I asked him about the delay in action against Patra, Amitabh got agitated and said, “You think there is a delay? This is the process of investigation. We will arrest him after examining the evidence, right?”

The JR told me that 9 September was her first day of COVID-19 duty and she had gone to the quarantine centre of the nursing hostel on campus after her shift, at around 2.20 pm. In the FIR, she noted, “I went to my room on 2nd floor which was exclusively allotted for female doctors while the 1st floor and 3rd floor was exclusively for male doctors. Then I went to the bathroom for a bath. While I was bathing, a few minutes later, I suddenly saw a phone being pointed at me from above the wall separating the adjacent bathroom. I screamed and quickly opened the door within seconds where I saw a tall man, average body built, with curly hairs in an untucked blue full shirt and a dark colored pant running out of the bathroom going towards the right. But in my state I couldn’t dare to chase after him.” Her statement says that she immediately called a senior at 2.41 pm but could not get through to him. She also informed the hostel warden, who checked the CCTV footage, “but, couldn’t come to a conclusion.”

Aathira Konikkara is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: workplace sexual harassment Vishaka Guidelines
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