'Feel Like Committing Suicide': JNU Prof Alleges Harassment Due to Muslim Identity

Rosina Nasir, assistant professor in JNU, says she feels like committing suicide after continued exclusion and harassment because of her Muslim identity.

New Delhi: The Delhi Minorities Commission (DMC) has issued a notice and interim order to the registrar of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) based on a complaint by a faculty member alleging “discrimination, mistreatment and harassment” because of her minority (Muslim) identity.

In a letter to the chairman of the DMC, 40-year-old Rosina Nasir, assistant professor at the university’s Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP), accused vice-chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar and chairperson of CSSEIP Yagati Chinna Rao of “targeted harassment, exploitation, and discrimination”.

She sought intervention from the DMC saying she was being forced to quit her job by the two “powerful” men and that she fears for her and her child’s safety. “It seems to me if I will not quit the faculty position in the CSSEIP, I will be made to disappear like Najeeb (JNU student who went missing three years ago from his hostel and is still untraceable),” the letter says. She lives with her husband and three-year-old son within the JNU campus.

Before joining JNU in 2013, Nasir worked as a permanent faculty member at Hyderabad Central University for four years. She has completed more than six years at JNU and claims that the harassment started only in March 2017.

“From October 2017 onwards, JNU stopped paying me salary despite the extension of CSSEIP Scheme by the UGC,” her letter to the DMC says. She calls this salary restriction arbitrary and an attempt to force her to quit her position as faculty. Frequent visits and letters requesting the release of her salary drew no response from the university administration.

Nasir is a tenured faculty member at CSSEIP under the UGC’s grant-in-aid scheme and says there was never a delay in salary payment before 2017 and she was paid on time just as other permanent faculty members from 2013 to 2017. The UGC has provided grant-in-aid for centres for the study of social exclusion across the country for over a decade.

Section 9 (i) of the UGC guidelines for setting up of social exclusion centres asks universities to submit “State Govt.’s or university’s own assurance to bear the liability towards the salary of the said post after the Commission’s assistance ceases on completion of five years”. This means the university is responsible for payment of salaries to the faculty even if the UGC stops financial assistance.

The JNU administration has reportedly denied the allegations. “She is in the university as part of a planned project by UGC and is not a permanent employee. Her salary is issued by the UGC and not by the varsity. The UGC had not released the salary but now they have released it and she has been paid,” a university official told News18. Nasir calls this an excuse to target her.

“I have been appointed through a grant-in-aid scheme but never faced this issue before. I haven’t heard of any other faculty member appointed through this scheme in other central universities facing this problem,” she adds.

Her salary was released in May 2019 after she moved the high court in November 2018 and won the case. The grant-in-aid scheme through which she was appointed faculty ended on March 31, 2019 but was further extended by the UGC till March 2020. However, she claims her salary has again been stopped from April 2019. She alleges that the administration is not responding to her official communication.

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In the Delhi high court case, Nasir’s fellow faculty member at the centre Kaustav Banerjee was also a party. Banerjee “resigned under duress” last year after non-payment of salary for 10 months and has now moved to another university while Nasir stayed on. He wrote a detailed account of how he was forced to quit in The Wire, hinting at a systemic attack on social exclusion centres across the country.

“While this sordid saga might seem like an internal JNU matter, it actually has far wider implications. The UGC is indifferent to all 35 centres spread across the country. Even though it funds them, the centres are either monetarily starved or do not have regularised faculty. In the last five years, UGC has thrice tried to close down these centres, especially the one at JNU,” he wrote while recounting his ordeal.

Nasir, though, feels her identity has made her particularly prone to hostility. “The administration officials including the rector asked me to quit if I wanted to prosper in academia. They said I wouldn’t be allowed to continue with my work because I was a Muslim,” she told The Wire. She claims officials have casually told her this many times.

Exclusion and isolation

Nasir has also been asked to vacate her residential accommodation and multiple reminders for the same have been sent to her. Her wardenship of a hostel on the basis of which she was allotted accommodation has been terminated. She calls this move arbitrary and claims she received no response on her requests for extension.

“I replied to all letters in this regard and showed intent to vacate and sought time,” she says and adds that she is now being threatened to be forcefully evicted by getting the police involved. She attributes this move to the VC’s “hatred to her identity” and claims he is using his discretionary power for warden extension to harass her.

She adds that non-payment of salary for 18 months made it difficult for her to vacate her accommodation and live outside the campus.

In addition to non-payment of salary and termination of accommodation, she has alleged exclusion from faculty meetings and other academic activities by Yagati Chinna Rao, the chairperson of her centre.

Nasir, in her letter to the DMC, also points out that Rao has previously been “punished” by the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) of JNU for passing comments regarding her official leave during her pregnancy and maternity period. The ICC had requested the university authorities to nominate him to attend a workshop on gender awareness and sensitivity. Alleging favouritism by the VC, she claims her appeal against the ICC decision, which she thought was “mild”, was not entertained.

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She is also not allowed to supervise MPhil and PhD students or teach in the classroom. She says this will also affect her academic career. “I was denied the key to access the class-cum-committee room by the Centre Chairperson Prof. Chinna Rao, services like telephone, official internet connection, official email id, and my webpage profile were declined and blocked. I was not allowed to teach students and students were discouraged to get enrolled in my offered course. It is humiliating,” she wrote in the letter.

She adds that she is being driven to suicide because of this “isolation, exclusion, and creation of an unfamiliar and hostile environment”.

Nasir claims she has not filed an internal complaint regarding these issues as she has no faith “as in most of the committees, he (the VC) is the appointing authority and has recommended his loyalists,” and thus she does not expect justice.

Notice and interim order by the DMC

In its letter dated July 19, the DMC said, “We feel that, prima facie, the complainant is being harassed and humiliated in gross misuse of powers by the accused persons and find her claim that this is being done only for her being a Muslim is, prima facie, quite credible.”

The DMC has asked the registrar to file a written reply to the allegations by August 1, 2019 failing which a case will be registered against the VC and the chairperson of CSSEIP.

The chairperson of the DMC, Zafarul-Islam Khan, has also ordered the JNU administration to stop any harassment of the complainant, release her arrears by July 26 and regularise her future salary payment. He also restrained the administration from withdrawing her housing facility in the campus and ordered the station house officer of the Vasant Kunj police station to refrain from offering any police support to evict the complainant from her living quarters.