Education

JNU Faculty Members Criticise 'Extreme Penalties' Recommended Against PhD Scholar

The university's ICC found the scholar's sexual harassment complaint 'frivolous' and recommended she be debarred. The faculty members said the move was meant to serve as a deterrent from filing such complaints.

New Delhi: Faculty members of the Jawaharlal Nehru University expressed their shock at the “extreme penalties” recommended against a PhD student whose complaint of sexual harassment against her guide was deemed “frivolous” by the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC).

On December 13, media reports said that the ICC report wanted the scholar to be completely debarred from entering the campus. The university’s vice-chancellor is yet to take a final call on the report. The academic council may put the scholar’s degree on hold until proceedings are complete.

While the faculty members said they were not privy to either the details of the complaint or the justification the ICC has for arriving at this conclusion, they said the “severity of the penalties imposed” were extremely troubling.

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“The ICC has recommended that the student be debarred, her degree withheld, and that she can never study or be given employment in JNU in future. Moreover, the student is prohibited from entering the campus for any academic or personal purpose; and has to be escorted by security guards to depose in any enquiry proceedings,” the statement reads.

“To destroy a woman student’s career by simply declaring her to be a liar without following the first principle of feminist due process is totally unacceptable. The adoption of such draconian punishments to women students is clearly meant to serve as a deterrent to all women against filing sexual harassment complaints in future,” the faculty members added.

Reiterating the “strong protest” about the dismantling of GSCASH and the current working of the ICC, the statement notes that gender discrimination on campus had increased. “The ICC has produced a hostile work environment in JNU and this is unacceptable,” they said.

The complete statement has been reproduced below.

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We, the undersigned faculty at the Jawaharlal Nehru University express our shock and outrage at the extreme penalties recommended against a doctoral student for bringing a sexual harassment complaint against her teacher.

According to a report in the Indian Express (dated 13 December 2018), JNU’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) has decided to punish a student for allegedly filing a ‘false’ sexual harassment complaint against a teacher in what it has deemed to be a ‘frivolous’ complaint.

While we are not privy to either the details of the complaint or the justification the ICC has for arriving at this conclusion — rather than simply the failure to substantiate a complaint—we find the severity of the penalties imposed extremely troubling.

The ICC has recommended that the student be debarred, her degree withheld, and that she can never study or be given employment in JNU in future. Moreover, the student is prohibited from entering the campus for any academic or personal purpose; and has to be escorted by security guards to depose in any enquiry proceedings. Further, she was advised not to travel abroad pending enquiry; nor has her degree been awarded yet, foreclosing her ability to move on to other academic venues. Further, the student’s future career opportunities are thwarted by the recommendation to deny a character certificate or No Objection certificate by the University.

Never have such stringent penalties to our recollection, been imposed in JNU against any perpetrator found guilty of sexual harassment in JNU, let alone against complainants. These outrageous recommendations are disproportionate to any findings of the ICC of a complaint being without merit. Such a finding does not legitimise the withdrawal of a degree, travel ban, or out of bounds order for the complainant. They are also contrary to the law. When an ICC finds a complaint to be manifestly false then it is required by law to establish malicious intent and this too requires the adoption of a fair procedure to the complainant.

To destroy a woman student’s career by simply declaring her to be a liar without following the first principle of feminist due process is totally unacceptable. The adoption of such draconian punishments to women students is clearly meant to serve as a deterrent to all women against filing sexual harassment complaints in future.

This is just one case that has been reported in the media. But there is a larger disturbing background, which is the way in which the ICC has re-opened and re-tried on-going cases of GSCASH. This process has established that the ICC has little understanding of how to approach cases of sexual harassment. Many students have reported feeling intimidated by the manner in which enquiries are conducted. Many students have withdrawn their cases from the ICC due to fear of intimidation and harassment. Others fear that their testimonies of harassment may be treated as false complaints.

Instead of working together with JNU students and teachers to create a gender-just workplace, the administration destroyed the existing GSCASH and has installed in its place a committee that is full of nominated members close to the administration. The ICC is not autonomous nor is it committed to providing fair and just procedure to women.

The undersigned faculty reiterate their strong protest about the dismantling of GSCASH; the current working of the ICC and the increased gender discrimination on campus. The ICC has produced a hostile work environment in JNU and this is unacceptable.

Ameet Parameswaran, Archana Prasad, Avinash Kumar, Ayesha Kidwai, Bishnupriya Dutt, Brahm Prakash, Chirashree Dasgupta, Chitra Harshvardhan, G Arunima, Ira Bhaskar, Jayati Ghosh, Kamal Chenoy, Kavita Singh, Kumkum Roy, Lata Singh, Madhu Sahni, Manidipa Sen, Moushumi Basu, Navaneetha Mokkil, Nilika Mehrotra, Nivedita Menon, Parnal Chirmuley, Pradip K. Datta, Pratiksha Baxi, Rama Baru, Ramila Bisht, Ranjani Mazumdar, Riddhi Shah, Rohit Azad, Shambhavi Prakash, Sucharita Sen, Sucheta Mahajan, Supriya Verma, Urmimala Sarkar, V Sujatha, Veena Hariharan, Vikas Bajpai, Vikas Rawal, Anuradha Chenoy and Mohan Rao.