I am a research scholar at IIT Roorkee. I joined here in 2016 and experienced mental agony to the point that after two years I had to change my supervisor as well as the whole PhD topic.
In less than three months I was aware of my previous supervisor’s unprofessional, unscholarly and unacademic temperament. From the very beginning itself, he used to encourage me to publish an article in paid journals which is unethical and do not go with the spirit of this reputed institution. In academia where we are supposed to share a professional as well as a formal working relationship, I started feeling distressed with the perpetual surveillance, offensive comments and over-indulging nature of my previous guide. Instead of taking an iota of interest in my academic progress and discussing my PhD topic, he started controlling my social life by dictating to whom I should meet or to whom I should talk. I was prescribed not to talk to a Muslim girl who was my senior from the same discipline, which I found regressive. But, in the beginning, I took everything in a light manner thinking that it would not hamper my work life but eventually I started feeling claustrophobic in a restrictive environment that thwarted my mental peace.
The first shock came when I was asked to write a research paper for him which he wanted to present in an International conference. These unwritten and unethical rules of PhD have been widely accepted and considered as customary laws.
Then I was asked to work as a TA in his NPTEL course. After the NPTEL project from which I got remuneration (though ten thousand less than what I had been promised), he demanded a mobile phone from me and the other TA. The other TA agreed to this but I refused to collaborate with him only to see my guide’s indignation and indifference towards my work. As an aftermath, he stopped talking to me, he did not allow me to go for any library visit, he threatened me of marking my progress as ‘unsatisfactory’, and he did not leave a single occasion to humiliate me. Twice I felt uncomfortable by his staring and almost hurriedly I rushed from his cabin and asked my friends if anything was wrong with my dress. Even, two other girls who attended his class felt in the same way but afraid of speaking about it.
My personal life became his ‘chai pe charcha’ (tea-time discussion) and he commented on my character in front of other scholars. Once I went to attend a conference at Jamia Milia Islamia in Delhi and after returning from the conference, I was informed by one of his scholars that Sir was asking whether I had a boyfriend in Delhi and whether I went to meet him (though I have produced my participation certificate). Does it fall under his supervision?
I could not tolerate all this mental harassment and then suffered from the hormonal disorder due to which I used to bleed for almost twenty-five days a month. When I wanted to go home for treatment, explaining everything to my guide, his wife intervened and pointed out the ‘unnaturalness’ of breakthrough periods before marriage. Adding to this, I received a WhatsApp message from his wife, accusing me of not wishing my guide on Teachers’ Day.
I have reached the threshold level of tolerance and decided to change my supervisor which again was not easy for me. I went to the higher authorities of my institute to narrate all these incidents hoping to get some help, but they suggested me to negotiate with him. A professor, who is my present guide, came to my rescue and agreed to take me under her supervision. After a prolonged struggle, my supervisor had been changed with some terms and conditions. I had to change my PhD topic, I had been told not to publish any work related to my previous topic. Two years of hard work got nullified in one shattered moment.
As I did not have recorded evidence or any written evidence to substantiate my narrative, nobody was ready to believe me and seemed to be less concerned about my two years of hard work and mental harassment but started safeguarding my guide’s dignity and respect. Though a female faculty member from a foreign university has filed a complaint against my previous guide to stare at her breast when she came to deliver a lecture in our department, my DRC chairman stopped me to lodge another complaint against his inappropriate staring. Under the manipulative system and the embedded power hierarchy, I felt docile, exhausted, weak and submissive.
If the Dean of Student Welfare does really care for the scholars, they would have some pragmatic policies to ensure the mental wellness of every scholar. Only the establishment of a wellness center in the campus does not stop the exploitative nature of supervisors.
Scholars always fear to voice their grievances against their supervisor because we are made subordinate to the supervisors, as our whole PhD life, even the monthly scholarship, depend solely upon his signature. In general, an educational institution has code of conducts for every student under which they expect us to be decent and principled but do they expect the same things from a Professor? Probably not. Why do these institutionalized rules protect and safeguard a particular fraternity besides the fact that students are also an important part of the same institution? Where should a scholar go to protect their dignity and integrity as a scholar? Do we forsake our self-esteem while taking admission as a PhD student? These are some of the fundamental questions that remain in the cosmos.