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Student denied German university internship citing India's 'rape problem'

Annette G Beck-Sickinger, who teaches biochemistry and bio-organic chemistry at Leipzig University, says she has to to consider the safety of female students.

india Updated: Mar 09, 2015 20:05 IST
Rezaul Hasan Laskar
Rezaul Hasan Laskar
Hindustan Times
Leipzig University,Annette G Beck-Sickinger,Quora

An Indian student has accused a professor at one of Germany's oldest universities of denying him a biochemistry internship because of the "rape problem in India".

The matter came to light after a colleague of the Indian student posted emails exchanged between Annette G Beck-Sickinger, the professor at Leipzig University, and the student on the question-and-answer website Quora. Both the student and the colleague did not identify themselves.

The incident comes in the midst of a renewed debate over the country's poor record in women's safety, especially after the controversy generated by the banned documentary, India's Daughter, which purportedly highlights the misogynist mindset of India's men.

By Monday evening, another student came forward to tell the media that Beck-Sickinger had refused his PhD application in March 2014. In an email purportedly sent by the professor to this student, she wrote she no longer accepted “any male Indian guests, trainees, doctoral students, or post docs due to the severe rape problem in India”.

German ambassador Michael Steiner reacted strongly to the professor's denial of internship and endorsed India's efforts to deal with violence against women.

Beck-Sickinger, the professor of biochemistry and bio-organic chemistry named by the student, did not deny the email exchange with the Indian student.

One email from Beck-Sickinger posted by the student's colleague stated: "Unfortunately I don't accept any Indian male students for internships. We hear a lot about the rape problem in India which I cannot support. I have many female students in my group, so I think this attitude is something I cannot support."

Reached for her comments through email, she told the Hindustan Times that the matter was a "misunderstanding" and the outcome of an "unpleasant discussion" with the Indian student.

She also said the university did not discriminate with Indian students and that she had accepted several Indians in her department in the past.

"Unfortunately, this mail was a misunderstanding. Of course, I have nothing against male Indians and I have accepted several Indian students in the past. Currently, two male Indian students work in a lab course with me in my labs," she said.

"However, my lab is full and I cannot take any additional student in summer. This led to an unpleasant discussion with one of the Indian student," she added.

Beck-Sickinger said she had informed the head of the university about the situation and a press release would be issued later.

"I hope this helps to clarify the situation and make clear that we are an open university for everybody," she said.

However, on the Quora post, the Indian student's colleague said Beck-Sickinger had sent him an email in which she said it was "unbelievable" that Indian society had not been able to solve the problem of rape.

"I fully agree that this is a generalisation and may not apply to individuals. However, it is also unbelievable that the Indian society is not able to solve this problem for many years now. Reports reach Germany on a weekly base (basis), and especially these 'multi-rape crimes' are threatening, but for me also demonstrate the attitude of a society towards women. Also female tourist are kidnapped by groups of males and then abused," Beck-Sickinger wrote.

She also claimed that "many female professors in Germany (have) decided to no longer accept Indian male students for these reasons, and currently other European female associations are joining."

Leipzig University was founded in 1409, making it one of Germany's oldest universities. Its website describes it as an "interdisciplinary, international comprehensive university" that was placed among the top 25 in Germany for four consecutive years by a global ranking agency.

In a letter to Beck-Sickinger, which was made public, German ambassador Steiner said, "Your oversimplifying and discriminating generalisation is an offense to these women and men ardently committed to furthering women empowerment in India; and it is an offense to millions of law-abiding, tolerant, open-minded and hard-working Indians.

"Let's be clear: India is not a country of rapists. I would encourage you to learn more about the diverse, dynamic and fascinating country and the many welcoming and open-minded people of India so that you could connect a simplistic image, which -- in my opinion -- is particularly unsuitable for a professor and teacher," Steiner added.

Last week, the Indian government barred screening of India's Daughter,' a documentary by British filmmaker Leslee Udwin on the brutal gang-rape of a young student in December 2012.

Despite the ban, the film has been viewed on the internet by many Indians, triggering a fresh debate on rape and steps to counter violence against women and the mindset behind such attacks.

First Published: Mar 09, 2015 17:17 IST