Prof rejects Indian intern over ‘rape problem’

Germany's ambassador to India stepped into a university admissions row after a professor said she wouldn't accept a male Indian student for an internship because of the country's “rape problem”.

Prof rejects Indian intern over 'rape problem'
Leipzig University's main building, the Augusteum. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
“We hear a lot about the rape problem in India, which I cannot support. I have many female students in my group,” Professor of Biochemistry at Leipzig University Annette Beck-Sickinger wrote in an email to the applicant.
She continued defending her position when a friend of his wrote to her in support.
“Reports reach Germany on a weekly base [sic], and especially these 'multi-rape crimes' are threatening, but for me also demonstrate the attitude of a society towards women,” she wrote.
“Of course, we cannot change or influence the Indian society, but only take our consequences here in Europe.”
But she found herself in for more publicity than she bargained for after a friend of the student she rejected posted the emails online.
“I strongly object to this,” Germany's ambassador to India Michael Steiner wrote in an open letter to Beck-Sickinger on Monday.
“Your oversimplifying and discriminating generalization… 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.”
Professor Margret Wintermantel of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) said in a statement on Monday that the Leipzig case was a "regrettable one-off and apparently a huge misunderstanding".
"This case is in no way representative of German universities. They are reliable partners for bringing students from all over the world to Germany.
"In our work, DAAD strives towards an authentic culture of welcome in Germany and for world-wide partnerships." 
Beck-Sickinger has since apologized for the email, telling the Huffington Post India that "I apologize if this caused any misunderstanding, but the e-Mail was taken out of the context".

“Of course I have nothing against male Indians and I have accepted several Indian students in the past.” Beck-Sickinger continued.

“However my lab is full and I currently cannot take any student [sic]. This led to an unpleasant discussion with one of the Indian student."


For members


OPINION: Why I gave up Indian citizenship for a life in Hamburg

After 10 years in Hamburg, Meenu Gupta traded Indian citizenship for a German passport. She describes her reasons, and why her heart still belongs in India.

OPINION: Why I gave up Indian citizenship for a life in Hamburg
Meenu Gupta. Photo courtesy of the author.

Cancelled. One word between parallel lines shrieking across a page. 

Till last week, I was an Indian citizen and now no more. On my request, which was efficiently  processed in less than five working days by the Indian Consulate in Hamburg, my passport (I am an owner of four passport booklets), which bears testimony to my perambulations across continents, was cancelled, in view of the German government’s decision to accept me as a  citizen. 

I duly received the cancelled document with a certificate confirming my voluntary renouncement of Indian citizenship. 

READ ALSO: The five most common challenges Indians face in Germany

Multiple identities

If a soul could have a nationality, mine would still be very Indian. My soul lurches at the onset of Indian Mantras and goes into oblivion in meditation. The rich colours of India are stamped in my heart and my being carries Indian values like a beacon on a chariot. 

The Indian Consulate in Hamburg. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Yet I am defined in many ways: My roots are Indian, my branches universal (I married a Dutch man!) and my fruits are German with deference to the fact that my son was born in Germany. 

I have lived in Hamburg for the last ten years. I arrived as a sceptic with an upturned nose of a well-heeled Indian, still trying to adjust to life in a foreign land. 

India, unlike what most Europeans think and know, is home to many cosmopolitan people, who are fairly well travelled with enough lucre, courtesy good careers and a lifestyle which could be the envy of many Europeans if they were aware of it. 

I know true life accounts of some Italian and German friends who were posted in India by their companies, and they grew to love their life in India so much that they wept when time came to return to their home countries. A life peppered with personal chauffeured cars, regular house-help, ambient  restaurants, club memberships, service-oriented home delivery shops, dinners at five-star hotels, etc. 

What is normal to the well-heeled in India is luxury for most in Europe. Definitions of normal and luxury have very different connotations in the two continents. 

I am not pining or whining…though sometimes travelling down memory lane is itself a sheer luxury. I crossed the ocean for love and stayed. 

What kept me abroad

So what didn’t I get in India? I realized that over the last ten years that it’s what people consider basic in Germany: fresh air and low pollution in the cities, drinking water from a tap and safety of  walking on roads and in parks without the fear of being assaulted. The last point hits a nerve because I lived in Delhi, which some years back was called the rape capital of India. 

Security and safety are major concerns in most metro cities in India, in view of the ever-increasing divide between the rich and the poor, even though the size of the middle class has swelled exponentially over the years.

For many memorable years, I lived in a part of Delhi which is home to both local as well as  international elites and therefore relatively more secure. It sits in the proximity of the famed heritage Lodi Garden which is considered as an echelon of power where common people rub shoulders with politicians and the like. 

On more than one occasion, I was assaulted during my regular evening walks in Lodi. I cannot think of a more secure Delhi public park which is frequented  also by the police commissioners as well as senior officers of Indian intelligence agencies. Yet, more than once, the security did not hold up. After an initial traumatizing assault in 1995, I walked with a body guard tailing me for a short while. Then I resorted to carrying pepper spay and stun guns.

Ten years ago, when I first started walking around the Alster in Hamburg late evenings, I had a well-entrenched habit of looking over my shoulders when I heard running footsteps behind me. It took me several years to shed this habit and enjoy walks without constantly jumping around. 

People walking along the Alster in Hamburg in October 2020. Photo: DPA

Applying for German citizenship

This and the fact that in India, I would never have the courage in present day times, to have a  babysitter pick up my son from school for fear of the child being kidnapped, spurred me to apply for German citizenship, when a dear friend broached the subject. 

It is a big step, unthinkable for many — a step which I took after a great deal of deliberation till one day I realized that a passport is actually rightly called “Reisepass” or travel document. Papers which help you cross borders do not define your soul’s lineage or allegiance or the borders of your heart.  

READ ALSO: Number of ‘Blue Card’ holders on the rise in Germany

In the span of a decade, my mind has crossed its borders – if India is my motherland, Germany, with its rich diversity in cities such as Hamburg where the old and new are juxtaposed while keeping a generous expanse of green cover, has become my fatherland. 

Finally, the East is as much home as the West. The constant buzz in my head to rush back to India to the comforts of home there, has mellowed to a murmur…but when the heat hits thirty degrees Celsius in Hamburg in response to global warming, that murmur becomes louder and my body craves the cool air conditioned ambience of my Indian home.

Europeans mistakenly think that all Indians are used to high temperatures and this is so not true! 

Rising incomes in India have resulted in air conditioners becoming ubiquitous in most middle and upper class households. This means that on an average person travels in an air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned office and comes back to an air-conditioned home in summer.

In fact, I got my first heat stroke in Germany some nine years ago…not in India!

A heavy heart

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the world totally unannounced last year, I was planning to visit India, my country, but was forced to cancel all plans, thanks to the flood of infections worldwide.

A woman swings a fire rope at a Diwali celebration in 2016 in Schloss Pillnitz in Dresden. Photo: DPA

In the span of the following nine months (the same time it takes for a human baby to form in the womb), Germany officially became my home country or so says the certificate  which I received with extreme politeness from a German official, who was quite baffled when I tentatively asked him if I could return the citizenship! 

Crazy as it may sound, I walked out of the German office with a heavy heart. Most people tell me that one should celebrate the event with champagne…but I could not get myself to look at or consume the bubbly.

For the first time, I pined for my roots like never before. I celebrated Diwali like never before…and even cooked an Indian dish which I also never did before. 

I am an expat no more but I am waiting to visit my motherland while I wait out the pandemic in my fatherland. If anything, my roots even became stronger!

READ ALSO: How Germany’s international residents are affected by the coronavirus pandemic