Education

JNU Agrees to Change Inquiry Panel After Nivedita Menon Alleges Bias

Menon had deposed against Bidyut Chakrabarti, head of the former probe committee, during a sexual harassment investigation in 2007.

Nivedita Menon. Credit: Sylwia Mierzinska

New Delhi: The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) administration has reconstituted an inquiry committee that was meant too look into ‘disruptions’ created by professor Nivedita Menon at an academic council meeting after allegations of bias.

The committee was set up to look into the role of teachers in a ‘disruption’ of an academic council meeting on December 26, 2016. “Several students had barged into the academic council meeting and chanted slogans demanding reduction of the weight given to the oral interview in admission to research courses. Nine students were suspended,” Telegraph reported. Menon is currently the head of department at the Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory at JNU’s School of International Studies.

The original committee, formed on January 3, was headed by professor Bidyut Chakrabarti, an external member of JNU’s executive council who teaches at Delhi University. In 2007, Menon had deposed against Chakrabarti during investigation into a sexual harassment complaint against him in DU; Menon taught there too at the time. Chakrabarti had been debarred from all administrative posts for three years after the incident.

When Menon was asked to appear before the committee headed by Chakrabarti, she repeatedly expressed her apprehensions of bias to the administration. However, the university still sent her repeated letters, including a final notice, to depose before the committee.

On July 19, Menon wrote to the JNU vice-chancellor saying: “I am apprehensive that given my role as a witness in the enquiry that found him to have committed sexual harassment, a committee chaired by Prof Bidyut Chakrabarty will not be impartial in any enquiry against me. An apprehension that there is likely to be prejudice or animus towards witnesses such as myself in that case is not unfounded. I therefore request that the executive council reconstitute the inquiry committee.”

A group of academics, activists and feminist organisations also issued a statement supporting Menon, saying, “The JNU administration has exposed its own mala fide intentions by ignoring Prof. Menon’s repeated pleas to reconstitute the inquiry committee, given her legitimate apprehension of bias. Instead they have sent her repeated letters asking her to appear before the inquiry committee. We are deeply shocked that the JNU administration ignored the fact that the nomination of Prof. Chakrabarti as the chair of this inquiry against Prof. Menon is a violation of the principles of natural justice and the right to a fair procedure. Surely the JNU administration and its Executive Council should abide by the principles of a fair inquiry and ensure that such an enquiry should not be headed by someone who has grounds for bias.”

When the administration did not respond to her request, Menon petitioned the high court. The matter was set to be heard in the court on August 23, but the university reconstituted the committee on August 22.

JNU said in a notification, according to The Hindu, “Respecting natural justice and to have a fair examination of the case, the competent authority has constituted a committee consisting three DU Professors that include Ashok Prasad from the Department of Chemistry, J.P. Dubey from the Department of Adult Education and Kumund Sharma from the Department of Hindi.”