Handling highly volatile emotional situations is a tough job today. This is a brutally candid account of one such situation and it explores how our urge to do the ‘right’ thing may end up wronging someone
This article is about ‘situations’ where we fail; where we succumb to pressure; where we make mistakes and live with guilt feelings for life. I am narrating it in the hope that it becomes a case study for many others who are bound to find themselves in such a situation.
It was the 2nd day of a major national convention that I was attending at Hyderabad and a major event for our institute. At about midnight, I received a desperate telephone call from a girl student residing at our girl’s hostel in Pune. She was crying uncontrollably and it took me some time to console her (without knowing anything) and get her to speak about the reason for her distress. Finally, she said, “I have been raped. How am I going to live in this world? And it has been done by a classmate of mine outside the campus when we went for dinner.’’ She also gave me the impression that she may attempt suicide. I was shocked. I told her that since she has not committed any mistake, she should not blame herself. I assured her that I would be there the next day and “deal with the guilty student very firmly and in the way you want me to deal with it.’’
I immediately called up two lady directors and her hostel mates and asked them to shadow this child and ensure that she does not take any drastic step as she had gone through a traumatic experience. I also cautioned them to keep the matter under wraps so that the boy doesn’t run away. Maintaining her reputation was the other issue. I asked our lady directors to find out more about the episode. I got to know that the incident had occurred in a flat where some of the students’ friends were staying (non-hostelites). My mind was fully occupied with how to deal with this incident. I decided to seek the advice of veteran friends attending the HRD convention. I also shared the information and sought the advice of three senior directors on how to how to handle the case.
Three different opinions emerged. One, that the girl should file a police case and the institute should help her to do so. Two, the institute should inform the parents and we need not take any responsibility for the incident since they were both adults who had gone outside the institute by mutual consent, when this incident took place. Three, the girl should be counselled and the boy should be rusticated and the matter reported to the police.
I returned to Pune the next day. Meanwhile, the two lady directors had taken the child under their wings, consoling her and taking good care of her. Two girl students were assigned not to leave her, even when she goes to the toilet. Although my house is close to the airport, I reached the campus straight from the airport. I called for a meeting of the High Power Committee (HPC) of Sri Balaji Society, which comprises all the Directors, and they were briefed by the two lady directors. All the aspects were discussed threadbare at the meeting which lasted for four hours. The Students Council was also actively involved in the discussion. I must say, that, I had always bowed before the collective wisdom.
The committee was in two minds about whether to inform the parents of the girl. I also heard the affected girl but she repeatedly insisted that we should not inform her parents. “My father will kill me and also kill himself,’’ was her stand.
The HPC opined that I should meet her alone, talk to her and decide the future course of action. I called the girl; she was still crying uncontrollably. It took me over an hour to bring her to her normal senses. I was very angry with the boy, and had decided to hand him over to the police immediately. But the girl cried and pleaded, “No Sir. You should not go to the police.’’
I told her that under the laws of the land, we have to report the incident to the police. Since she refused, we thought of filing a case on our own. We approached the police, but they said, “Unless we have a written complaint from the affected person, we cannot file a case.’’ I called the aggrieved girl again and told her that as a responsible organisation, we should inform her parents. She said, “If you inform my father, or the police, I will commit suicide.’’
I was in a fix as I was in a tricky situation. I was expected to take legal and appropriate action. We called the boy’s parents but were delaying informing the girl’s father for fear that she may take some drastic step. I was also stonewalled by the police who insisted on a written complaint. So, the ball was in our court.
Meanwhile, the parents of the allegedly accused boy landed in Pune. The boy in question also felt something fishy was going on since the girl was not answering his calls. Then came a shocking twist in the form of a suicide note, which he posted on his Facebook page. ‘Enough is enough. Thanks to everyone who helped me. Bye’, it said. We had to ask some students to protect the boy until we had met his parents. His father was a thorough gentleman and was under tremendous pressure. A panel comprising me and two lady Directors were nominated to deal with the parents.
After the preliminaries, we told the father of the boy, “What happened is a fact. The messages shown by the girl, confirms that. Already, the news is leaking out. It is very difficult for your son to exist in this environment. So, in the interest of your own son, take him away. We will refund his entire college fees.’’
Tears rolling out of his eyes and hands shivering, he said, “Sir you are like God to us. If you say so, I consider that it is the right thing to do. I will take my son away.”
We were relieved of some tension. The girl expressed satisfaction and requested us to close the matter. Two to three days passed. After collecting the fee-refund, the boy came to see me. Until then I had not even seen him. I had not bothered to call him and confront him, after hearing the complaint from the girl. In our mind he was guilty. He introduced himself and said, “Sir, I thought that you are God, but you did not do justice to me. You did not even ask me whether I did it (the rape) or not. You did not bother to find out whether the incident occurred, and if so, whether it was forced or consensual. A person of your stature should have investigated these aspects of the case. Your enquiry was one-sided. My fault is that I am not a girl. Now that I am leaving, I want to tell you that I am innocent but I am leaving because you have directed me to do so. You may not trust me and I don’t want you to trust me, but I am giving you a small audio recording on CD of a discussion between her and me, a week before the incident. Once you hear it you will not be able to sleep. You won’t be able to reverse the decision or apologise to me either. And that is the punishment which I give to you.’’
When we heard the audio, we realised that the boy was not to be blamed. Actually, it was the girl who instigated him and wanted an experience. The tape also revealed that the girl was involved in another love affair and that her boyfriend came looking for her and had caught the two red-handed. The only way the girl could wriggle out of the situation was to cry rape.
Time passed. The girl was in the highest of spirits; she subsequently got a good job placement and was gone from the institute. But what happened to the boy? Did I kill his career? I feel guilt-ridden, whenever I think of this boy. But then, what were the other options open to me? I still don’t know!
As a post-mortem, I feel, I was indeed put in a predicament - I could not give the boy, the benefit of the doubt and I had to unconditionally go by the girl’s complaint. Was I just or unjust? I leave to you, the reader, to introspect.
This article is being published with kind permission from Corporate Citizen magazine.
(Dr (Col) A Balasubramanian is Editor-In-Chief of Corporate Citizen magazine).