Dec. 05 Over a year ago, Deepti*, a 19-year-old girl joined the Government Flying Training School in Bengaluru’s Jakkur with dreams of becoming a pilot. Little did she realise that in her time at the academy, she would be stalked, sexually harassed and molested by her training instructor, she says.
Deepti, however, was not alone. More than eight women, who were trainees at the academy in 2017, have came forward and filed a collective, anonymous complaint of sexual harassment, molestation and stalking against Chief Flying Instructor Amarjit Singh Dange. However, Deepti alleges that no action has been taken.
“When I joined the academy last year, it was through a scholarship because I am a Dalit student. Initially, Amarjit’s way of talking to students made me uncomfortable. He had my phone number and he would message me on WhatsApp. I just did not reply a lot,” Deepti says.
Over time, Amarjit allegedly began following her outside of the training centre. So much so that Amarjit allegedly knew her every move and every person she met and spoke to. “If I went out to a restaurant or a cafe with a few male friends or a male friend, he would get jealous and send me accusatory messages. He had assumed that I owed him something. I was just too scared that he would mess with my training. Once he saw me with one of our batchmates at a restaurant. The next day, my friend was benched. He was not allowed to train,” Deepti alleges.
Deepti and other students allege that Amarjit behaved inappropriately with them mostly when they were alone. “When we are up in the air during training sessions, there is literally a few inches gap between my seat and the trainer’s. He would begin caressing me and touching me inappropriately. He knew I couldn’t do anything because flying is not easy. When something like this happens while you are in an aircraft, you begin to prioritise and I chose to ensure that it was all over quickly so we could just land,” Deepti alleges.
Deepti is not the only one who allegedly faced such harassment from Amarjit. According to screenshots of messages available with TNM, Amarjit allegedly sent over 900 messages to another student and harassed her for over five months. So much so that the woman was forced to leave town.
“I will give you Rs 1 crore if you come to the bedroom with me,” Amarjit allegedly told Sneha* in one of the messages. The woman ignored his messages. Soon after, her inbox was flooded with messages from Amarjit. “Today you missed a good life from me and Rs 1 crore… I want to sleep in your cosy arms,” the message, allegedly from Amarjit, states.
In November 2017, the students approached a flying instructor at the academy named Amit Sobti and spoke to him about the harassment they were facing. The women, who were scared to come forward and speak about the harassment, requested Amit to file a complaint on their behalf.
The complaint was filed and Amarjit had tendered his resignation. However, later he claimed that the Karnataka Sports and Youth Empowerment Ministry had rejected his resignation.
Since no action was taken by the institute, Amit Sobti approached the Amruthahalli Police Station and also DCP North East Kala Krishnaswamy in November 2017 regarding the sexual harassment complaints. However, no FIR was filed in the case; according to Amruthahalli Sub Inspector Manjunath, Amit Sobti did not appear for questioning regarding his complaint and hence no FIR was filed.
“Amit Sobti had submitted a 41-page complaint on behalf of the women. If we have to investigate, we need to at least know the identity of one woman who is willing to file the complaint. We had assured them that their names would not be made public but the women were too scared. So we could not register an FIR,” he added.
Amarjit fired Amit Sobti in August this year after he learnt of his involvement in the sexual harassment and molestation complaint filed against him, Sneha alleges. TNM has a copy of Amit Sobti’s letter of termination of employment, which states that Amit was let go “for his shortcomings in flying abilities.”
Soon after Amit left the academy, another instructor decided to help the women. “I have written to the Prime Minister’s Office, met the Deputy Chief Minister Dr G Parameshwara, spoken to Women’s Commission chief Nagalakshmi Bai, met officials with the Department of Women and Child Welfare, tried to talk to the Social Welfare Department since most of the women who have been harassed are scholarship students under the SC/ST quota. No action has been taken,” the instructor told TNM on condition of anonymity.
Speaking to TNM, Nagalakshmi Bai, the Chairman of the Karnataka Women’s Commission said that she is waiting for some evidence in the case and would take cognisance of it in a couple of days. “Only one man has come and filed a complaint. None of the girls have come forward yet. In a couple of days we will take cognisance of the complaint after I receive the screenshots of the messages,” she added.
TNM has copies of the letters he has written this year to the PMO, which were forwarded by the Chief Secretary’s Office and also the letters to the Deputy Chief Minister and the Minister of Women and Child Welfare.
‘Dalit and Adivasi students specifically targeted’
In a complaint to the Jayamala, Karnataka Minister of Women and Child Welfare, the flying instructor has stated that Amarjit allegedly targeted Dalit and Adivasi students who were training at the academy under a scholarship. Amarjit has also been accused of discriminating against Dalit and Adivasi students and frequently asking them whether “they want everything for free”.
“He has extreme prejudice against SC/ST candidates of the training institute, and he threatens them with the consequence of them losing their government scholarships” the letter states.
“At another time (Amarjit) Dange has said to one of the female trainee pilot (a Dalit candidate) whom he has taken liberty of harassing in several cases including cockpit, ‘No one will believe outside if you go and tell anyone about this,’” the letter adds.
“I am a Dalit and I too got a scholarship. Most of us faced so much harassment from him because we were scared he would do something to get us out of the academy. I come from a conservative family and I had to fight with my parents to train here. I am from a small town. That’s why I am scared of coming forward,” Deepti told TNM.
Amarjit continues to teach at the academy and the women say they are still scared of what he would do to destroy their careers.
Reacting to the allegations, K Srinivas, Director of Government Flying Training School said that an Internal Complaints Committee was convened in October this year to look into the complaint filed by Amit Sobti and that the committee’s final report on the case is awaited. “We are waiting for the committee to submit the report. It should come within a week. The thing is the girls did not directly file a complaint but a former trainer did on their behalf. Based on the committee’s report, we will take action against him. I have also put out an advertisement as we want to recruit assistant flying instructors. The problem is if he goes now, then the academy’s 42 students will not have a trainer. If he is found guilty, we will remove him,” K Srinivas told TNM.