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Close to a thousand women students protested last night at SRM Institute of Science and Technology in Kancheepuram district after a student alleged that she had been sexually harassed by one of the staff members in the hostel lift.

“The male gardener masturbated at her in the lift. She had pressed the 4th floor button and he, the 6th. But the man moved the lift to the 8th floor. He did not let her go until she screamed,” a woman student told.

According to a third-year software engineering student who took part in the protest, a second-year undergraduate student of the university was allegedly sexually harassed by a man working as sanitation worker inside a women’s hostel lift on Thursday afternoon around 3 pm.

“The man masturbated in front of the woman student in the hostel lift, following which she reported the issue to the authorities,” the student told.

According to another protester, the hostel warden, with whom the student had raised the issue, allegedly delayed access to the CCTV footage of the elevator and the registering of a complaint by over two hours.

Students have alleged that the director of the university has maintained that such “things happen to girls because they are north Indians who dress dirty, and smoke and drink”.

“The employee was identified by the student in the CCTV footage. However she was asked to stay mum about the incident by the authorities,” the protester said, adding that the hostel authorities allegedly blamed the victim.

Videos shared by students on campus show hundreds of students pushing a barricade and marching in the campus, raising slogans alleging inaction by the administration. Women students broke open the gates of the hostel block which were allegedly locked to keep the students in.

SRM University Vice Chancellor denied the allegations of inaction. “Students are discussing with us. Whatever the matter is, it will be taken care of. If there is a matter, it will be inquired,” Mr Sancheti told news agency PTI. In a video of his meeting with the protesting students, he is seen telling a girl, “Don’t try to make an issue out of nothing.”

“He’s was appointed recently to clear food waste from the hostel mess,” police officer MSM Vallavan told NDTV. The officer denied the earlier version of the police that the student was not alone in the lift with the worker, a claim the protesting students had called a lie and an attempt to suppress facts.

Manisha, an alumnus who graduated in 2015, says, “Even in the past male workers did masturbate in front of girls both on campus and off campus, on the way to the railway station, and our complaints were not taken seriously. Then too officials blamed it on our dressing.”

The police have advised the college administration to employ only women staff in the women’s hostel.

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