The prestigious Allahabad University is roiled in a controversy as Vice Chancellor Rattan Lal Hangloo recently appointed a person accused of sexual harassment as his Officer on Special Duty (OSD).
The OSD, Amit Singh, is one of six persons named by a student of the university in an FIR accusing them of sexually harassing and threatening her. The FIR (No. 533/14) was filed at the Colenganj Police Station of Allahabad city in May 2014. Besides slapping Sections 147, 323, 504, 506 and 354 of the Indian Penal Code on Singh and the five others, the police also charged them under the Scheduled Caste/Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
However, speaking to The Wire, Hangloo denied all charges against Singh. “On receiving a complaint from the student body, we looked into the matter and found out that there is no case against him in any court,” he said.
Speaking about the issue, Richa Singh, the president of the Allahabad University Students’ Union (AUSS) said, “On hearing about Singh’s appointment, we sought time from the VC to apprise him of the sexual harassment case against him by a fellow student. But he refused to meet us. So, when Minister of State for HRD Ram Shankar Katheria visited AU on February 10, we gave a written complaint to him seeking Singh’s removal from the post. A copy of the complaint was sent to the VC’s office. The Minister assured us that he would look into the matter.”
In response to the VC’s comment, Richa said, “Obviously, there won’t be any case against Singh in the court as the police have not taken any action in the case for the last one and a half years. But that doesn’t mean the court has given him a clean sheet.”
Richa, the first woman to be elected president in the history of AUSS, raised a pertinent point, “While the police need to be questioned about not investigating a case which concerns the safety and security of a woman, we also should not lose sight of the point that an academic institute should not hire a person against whom an FIR is filed on moral grounds. This is, after all, an academic institute with great history behind it. The VC could have easily appointed anyone else considering 30 to 35 people applied for the post.”
She further added, “At one level the Union HRD Ministry holds a meeting of all the VCs to make campuses gender and caste sensitive (on February 18), and at another level, it allows hiring of someone who has been accused by a student of sexual harassment. As OSD to the VC, he is the intermediary between the VC and the students. How can women students feel safe going to him?” The student, who filed the FIR “had to leave the hostel because of continuous threats from the accused,” Richa claimed.
However, Hangloo seemed determined to take action against Richa and others who shot the letter to the Minister. “Our legal advisor is readying all the papers and we plan to file a defamation case against the complainant,” he said.
Richa reacted, “Besides being the representative of the students, I am also a student. The administration has always ignored that fact and whenever I have raised an issue with them, I have been threatened that legal action will be taken against me. What kind of a space it is if students can’t freely question something that they object to?”
Besides the complaint against Singh, the VC’s office has received another complaint from a student concerning a prior case of sexual harassment against a professor, who is tipped to be appointed the head of the department of bio chemistry. On January 16, a D.Phil student of bio chemistry, wrote to Hangloo against the appointment of Bechan Sharma as the head of the department as he was found guilty of sexual harassment at the workplace by a committee formed by the former VC in response to her complaint. The committee had removed Sharma as her supervisor.
“If he is appointed the HoD despite the proven serious charge of sexual harassment, then no student in future will ever be able to complain and he will continue with his shameful behavior with impunity,” the student wrote in her letter.
Phone calls by this correspondent to Katheria seeking a response to the complaint he received concerning Singh’s appointment as OSD went unanswered.
The post of OSD is new to AU, the advertisement for which was released by the recruitment wing of the university on January 6, stating it as a vacancy on “a purely contractual basis.”