Panjab University expelled a 27-year-old PhD scholar after she lodged a complaint of sexual harassment against the son of PU’s Dean of Students Welfare (DSW Women), claiming that the complaint was false. As per the complaint, on the 7th of January this year, the son of DSW (Women) Neena Capalash verbally harassed the complainant and her friend’s relative, Mrs Seema, while they were on their way back from the market.
The complainant, who was on a scooty, alleged that the accused, who was driving a car, harassed her again when she returned after dropping Mrs Seema at the Faculty Guest House. The accused deliberately collided with her when she accelerated her scooty in an attempt to leave him behind and said “Nikaal di teri hekadi (Killed your ego)”.
The complainant has now written to the National Commission for Women (NCW) over the wrongful termination of her thesis. She alleged that the varsity authorities, led by the PU Vice Chancellor Arun Kumar Grover, ignored her complaints and were biased against her.
“The moment I reached near the VC’s house, I found him chasing me once again and he attempted to molest me and sexually harassed me by passing lewd comments,” the complainant wrote in her complaint addressed to the NCW chairperson. “As I tried to accelerate, he intentionally dashed my scooty with his white Endeavour.”
Here are all the details about how the Panjab University handled the PhD student’s complaint, which ultimately resulted in the termination of her thesis by the university.
After the incident on January 7, the complainant had complained to the VC in an email on 1st of February, narrating the whole thing and seeking an inquiry. Following after her email, the VC forwarded her complaint to the Panjab University Committee Against Sexual Harassment (PUCASH) in February.
The complainant also accused the DSW Neena Capalash of obtaining a false reconciliation statement from her by fraud. She asked the VC to get a FIR registered against Neena Capalash and her son. She also said that she had filed an RTI request to view the contents of the copy of the document but it hadn’t been provided to her yet.
However, Neena Capalash denied the complainant’s allegations made against her and asserted that she has got “complete proof” that she hadn’t done anything of that sort. She said that she went to visit the complainant in the hospital on the night of the accident along with her husband.
According to her, the complainant had told them in the hospital that she had no complaint regarding the accident and that she had now resorted to lying to extort money from her family. She pointed out that it took the complainant three weeks to lodge the complaint after the accident. Capalash even said that the complainant had tried to extort some amount of money from them. She also stated that she had a recording of the complainant saying she blames no one for the accident while she was in the hospital.
The complainant refused Capalash’s allegations; she told Catch News, “I did not even speak to Mrs Capalash when I found out a few days later through my friends that she was the same boy’s mother. As far as the delay in complaint goes, can you imagine my condition when I was in the hospital trying to recover after surgery? I had a bone grafting surgery and had 3 metal plates inserted in my right ankle.”
On March 26, the issue was raised in the senate where the VC gave a statement that the complaint was false. Owing to this, the complainant sent an email to the PUCASH on 29th March and 17th April, stating that she wouldn’t appear before the PUCASH panel because the VC had already termed her complaint false.
She said, “The probe was rigged against me from the start. The statement given by Mrs Seema to the police of Station 11 was not considered valid by the university because she could not be present. During a senate meeting on 26 March, the VC had already declared my allegations to be false while the probe was still going on.”
On 25th April, PUCASH declared that the complaint was “false and malicious”. It said that the complainant hadn’t appeared to give a statement despite being reminded repeatedly. It pointed out that she didn’t allege sexual harassment in her complaint with the police on 7th of January. The panel also added that the FIR lodged on 15th of February did not mention sexual harassment.
According to the FIR, the accused had only been charged for rash driving and causing hurt to others. He didn’t even have a valid driving licence. However, the complainant said she had mentioned sexual harassment and the lewd comments the accused had made to her in her complaint with the police. In response to this, the Station House Officer of Sector 11 police station, Inspector Lakhbir Singh, said they had not found enough evidence to proceed with the sexual harassment charges.
A month after the university syndicate, following the report of PUCASH declaring the complaint as false, the university Deputy Registrar (General) informed the complainant that her PhD thesis had been cancelled by the university syndicate in a meeting last month.
Interestingly, though, the official letter of her termination given by Panjab University didn’t make any mention of the accused or gave any detailed reasons for their decision. The brief reason given for the decision was because she had made “a false complaint of sexual harassment”.
Speaking about the cancellation of the complainant’s PhD enrollment, her guide Senator Jagdish Chander Mehta said that the complaint should never have been sent to PUCASH as the accused wasn’t either a student or an employee of the university. “It is a very serious issue and the student is being victimised by the university. Even I had been told by the VC to disown the student. They have not even sought my comments as a supervisor,” he said. When the VC was questioned why he referred the case to PUCASH when the accused wasn’t a part of the university, he declined to answer any questions.
The PhD student has alleged that PUCASH unilaterally took the decision without taking her version into account. She stood by her allegations and said she will move to the High Court against the cancellation of her PhD enrolment if the need arises, and rightly so!
It appears there are several discrepancies in the record and statements provided by the university as well as the police.
First, the VC’s decision of handing the case over to PUCASH in itself goes unaccounted for. If the accused is not a student or an employee of the university, the university’s organisation PUCASH had no business interfering in the matter. PUCASH couldn’t hold the two parties involved, the complainant and the accused, at the same level since they had no authority over the latter. Say, even if the organisation would have found the accused guilty, what punishment could they have inflicted on him anyway? He wasn’t their employee or student to command. The VC’s refusal to comment on his decision to hold an internal inquiry instead of involving the police only works to add to the suspicions that it was a well-thought-out plan to save the accused.
Second, even if the university decided upon an internal enquiry, not asking the student’s guide Senator Jagdish Chander Mehta to give his opinion and comments seems a bit odd. He was her guide after all. Then there’s also the matter of him accusing the VC of asking him to disown the student because she had filed a complaint against DSW’s son. That’s a serious accusation, one which the university should have taken into account. Especially after the VC already had declared the accusation was false of his own account, without even waiting for the investigation to reach its conclusion.
Third, the police hadn’t mentioned sexual harassment in the complainant’s FIR because of lack of evidence. However, with or without the lack of evidence, the police was supposed to have registered all the complaints made by the complainant in the FIR nonetheless. The rest is decided after the investigation, not during the time of filing an FIR. Even then, Mrs Seema, the witness of the incident, did give a statement to the police of Station 11, which should have counted as enough evidence for the police to at least proceed with the investigation in the complainant’s sexual harassment allegations.
Another important thing that deserves our notice is how the accused’s identity is also kept hidden in all these reports along with the complainant’s. The accused’s family has a powerful hold over the university, which is no secret. Both his parents are teachers at the university, his mother also being the Dean of Students Welfare (Women). His maternal grandmother has been a long term member of PU’s Senate and Syndicate, a position of greater influence in the university for sure.
All of these things combined only indicate how the university’s internal power play may be impacting this case severely. Instead of attempting to provide justice to a woman and holding an honest investigation into the case, it seems like Panjab University is trying with all its might to cover up after the accused and save him from any blame for his actions. What’s even sadder is that the accused’s mother, Neena Capalash, is the Dean of Students Welfare (Women). If the complainant’s statements are indeed proven to be true, both against the accused and Neena Capalash, exactly what kind of welfare would Neena Capalash do for PU’s female students, we can only wonder.