Amid allegations of stifling a complaint of sexual harassment filed against a student of Nalanda University, interim vice chancellor Pankaj Mohan tendered his resignation late on Wednesday (March 29).
Several students from Nalanda have alleged that after the alleged incident of sexual harassment came to light, Mohan ignored the complaint and even discouraged the victim, also a student at the university, from pursuing the matter.
Following three days of protests by the students, one of the accused was rusticated on Wednesday night and is currently in police custody while the other has been moved to a different hostel.
Meanwhile, the university has denied all allegations of covering up the charge of sexual harassment.
Mohan submitted his resignation along with an open letter to the “members of Nalanda University community” apologising for his “inability to uphold their trust”. He further accepted responsibility for the problems faced by the varsity in the “last three days”.
Mohan, however, did not explicitly mention that his decision to relinquish “all the administrative positions” was linked to the case of sexual harassment and the allegations against him of delaying the initiation of action against the accused.
Attempts by The Wire to contact Mohan were unsuccessful.
According to Nalanda’s communications director Smita Polite, the complaint regarding the incident first surfaced before Mohan in January and was then referred to the university’s internal complaints committee (ICC), which “addresses all complaints related to sexual harassment”.
“The internal complaints committee at the university had received a complaint of sexual harassment by a student against another student,” she told The Wire. “Based on the recommendations of the committee after following due process the student was rusticated.”
The committee, Polite added, recommended first “separating the student from the hostel,” followed by suspension and then rustication.
“We were just following the due process,” she said.
According to Polite, “The recommendation was received on the night of March 20, 2017 and after consulting with the university authorities and advice of the registrar the recommendation was approved on the March 27”. She added that “as an interim measure,” the accused student was shifted to another hostel on Tuesday (March 28) and after receiving the approval of the chancellor, the student was rusticated on Wednesday.
Polite told the Hindustan Times that as Mohan was interim vice chancellor, he decided to take the approval of the chancellor for the rustication — the first in the university.
A university student who was part of the protests told The Wire, on condition of anonymity, that a stay order of suspension of classes was issued to the accused and a three-day period was given to him to reply despite the ICC recommending rustication.
“We were given assurance by the university that the recommendations of the complaint committee would be followed and he would be rusticated,” he said. “But they didn’t rusticate him and instead gave him three days to reply,” which, he said, first led to students protesting outside Mohan’s residence on Monday night and then in the campus on Tuesday.
“We raised objections on why the committee’s recommendations weren’t being implemented.”
According to Polite, the “university officials and students have been in constant conversation on the issue. The interim vice chancellor had only objected to the student protests at the residential quarters of the faculty and had said that the university needs to take action in accordance to the prescribed rules and regulations.”
She further told The Wire that the “students wanted an immediate action and they were right on their part, but we also have to follow the due process.”
The protests escalated Wednesday morning when nearly 100 students joined in a 2-km long protest march from the Rajgir bus stand to the main gate of the university.
The accused was first asked to move from the hostel to another one by the authorities. When he protested and turned violent with the hostel guards, he was moved with the help of police intervention.
A student also told The Wire that after the accused’s hostel room was locked, the accused sent “threatening emails to the university registrar and to other students”.
“These were life threats.”
He further alleged that the accused was a repeat offender and that Mohan had discouraged the complainant from pursuing the matter.
Some students have even claimed that when the matter was referred to the ICC, Mohan “sat over the documents and challenged the ICC”.
The accused student was suspended on the evening of March 29 following approval from university chancellor Vijay Bhatkar and was then rusticated.