Posted by Chandrani Banerjee
Students of more than three National Law Universities (NLUs) have complained about sexual harassment either by staff or fellow students in the past 18 months. The series of incidents raise questions about the security of girl students and the environment on campus.
Law schools have been under the scanner for various other reasons. There was an agitation about a make-shift building, delay in completion of course, shortage of hostels, but these complaints are generalised and affect the entire community. Sexual harassment is a sensitive issue that can cause students to drop out or be traumatised for life and asks for serious attention.
The latest report comes from the Gandhinagar campus, where a girl student posted her friend’s ordeal on Facebook. At Bengaluru and Lucknow too, complaints have been received. In Bengaluru, the accused student was rusticated after an inquiry into the charges.
Looking back at the incidents, last September, students of Lucknow NLU staged relentless protests. Alleging sexual harassment, the girls of Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University requested a judicial probe. The determined students convinced Vice-Chancellor Professor Gurdip Singh to institute a judicial committee to probe the allegations. The committee is headed by Justice (retired) Bhagwan Din, with a retired IAS officer Babu Ram as its member secretary.
Sexual harassment can cause students to drop out or be traumatised for life and asks for serious attention.
Speaking about the incident, media spokesperson of Lucknow NLU Alka Singh said: “The inquiry is on. It would be incorrect on my part to draw a conclusion about it at this stage. We all are waiting for a detailed report. There were issues but that needs an inquiry first.”
In Bengaluru, the incident of sexual harassment occurred in December 2016. The students had to agitate, as 16 months after the sexual harassment complaint was lodged with the internal redressal cell (SHIC), the accused was continuing as a student even though the SHIC held him guilty and liable to be rusticated by November 2017. The students’ petition states that there had been a delay of 410 days over and above the statutorily permitted 90 days to wrap up an internal sexual harassment investigation.
Rule 18 of the Code provides that the “total time frame for the inquiry process from the time inquiry is initiated to the recommendations being made by the SHIC shall not exceed three months and from then on to the final decision by the Registrar or Director shall not take more than one additional month.”
Under Rule 19(E) of the Code, the V-C has the power to delay the implementation of the Registrar’s order for a period of one month pending the completion of the review process. However, five months passed and no serious effort was made to implement the corrective action.
In Gandhinagar, a girl student’s recent post on Facebook was highlighted by a website that covers legal matters. The post said:
“This person holds a position of influence in one of the committees of GNLU. Under the garb of summoning my friend for work, he called her to the committee room in the Admin block at an ungodly hour. This was not the first time he had done this. He had repeatedly expressed disappointment at the fact that she declined to join him for work that could be done from her room and implied that she was an irresponsible member failing at committee work because of her laziness.
After days of being pestered about alleged irresponsibility, she fell prey to the pressure and went to the committee room on the said occasion. He insisted that they sit on the couch than on the chairs. Wary of his intentions, she carefully placed a laptop between them, which he picked up and kept on her lap. A few minutes later, he reached over and touched her thigh, making a lewd remark at the same time.
She was terrified. But she was far more scared of confronting him and the consequences that might entail. In that prolonged moment of terror, a hundred thoughts went through her mind, most of them about how a confrontation would lead to an all-out war, and that there might be people who will not believe her, people who will discuss her and people who will attack her.
She pretended to be dizzy from medication and kept pushing him away, saying that she was feeling sick and requesting him to stay away. She was so strongly gripped by the awareness of a backlash to anything she might say or do to resist him at the moment, that she didn’t dare be curt in her resistance.
She was terrified to let him know that she felt furious and violated. The pervert kept trying to touch her until she finally pushed him away one last time. He realised that she wasn’t going to give in and got furious. He asked her to leave and said that he would call other members to do the work. She ran out.
When she asked the members he had mentioned if they were called for work, they said they never were. She came to talk to me and shared her disgust. I realised that she needed time to deal with her fear and disgust before I could persuade her to speak up about this.”
Commenting on these incidents, senior Supreme Court lawyer Abani Sahu said: “The trend is disturbing. This is not good for the students and campus. The NLUs are reputed institutions and if the student comes up with such complaints in these campuses then we really need to rethink about the system.”