Observe the Rule of Law
An Open Letter to the Vice Chancellor
Prof. Deepak Pental
University of Delhi
17 August 2007
Dear Prof. Pental,
We wish to draw your attention to the non-observance in the University of Delhi of its own policy on Sexual Harassment enacted through Ordinance XV(D ). What has appeared in the media amounts to a disturbing callousness or, worse still, a wilful disregard for the Ordinance.
We demand immediate action on the reports submitted by Apex Complaints Committee (ACC) on complaints of Sexual harassment involving Prof. Gurcharan Singh Arshi of the Department of Punjabi and Prof. Bidyut Chakrabarty, Head of the Department of Political Science, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Director of Gandhi Bhavan. The Executive Council is scheduled to meet on Monday, 20 August 2007. We demand that the reports be placed in the meeting that day for implementation of the recommendations of the Apex Committee.
It is unacceptable that no action has been taken in the case of Prof. Arshi nine months after ACC submitted its report. Such inaction allows him the freedom to harass and victimise the complainants and the witnesses in the case. As a Professor he deals with appointments, promotion, admission and supervision of research apart from other administrative work. It is a month and half since the ACC submitted its report on the complaint against Prof. Chakrabarty in the face of certain hostile and adversarial position on your part against the process of inquiry. The reasons for our apprehensions about your role in these cases are as under:
1. On the specific case of the enquiry into a complaint against Prof. Bidyut Chakrabarty, you have reportedly said: “The university is committed to do its duty – which is tabling the report in the executive council meeting. It cannot be made public before that…. there are many issues in the university. I will definitely not call an EC just for this.” (Times of India, 6 August 2007, “Dean “guilty” of sexual harassment”)
Not only does such a statement betray exasperation, it indicates unwillingness on your part to follow the Ordinance which states that “The Head of the institution upon receipt of the enquiry report, shall refer the same to the Governing Body/Executive Council. (EC) and institute disciplinary action on the basis of the recommendations of the Complaint Committee under relevant service rules.” (Ordinance XV(D) Pg 405 Volume I Calendar, University of Delhi). How else does one explain the fact that the enquiry report on the complaints of sexual harassment against Prof. Arshi has been submitted nine months ago and has not been tabled in the many meetings of the Executive Council held since its submission? “… upon receipt of the enquiry report,” can hardly mean months after or many meetings after the receipt. Specifically, when the enquiry process itself is time bound.
Inaction has allowed the accused and the guilty to use the various positions of authority to harass and victimise complainants and witnesses and to solicit support from other vulnerable sections.
2. The case of the complaint against Prof. Bidyut Chakrabarty has received much media attention. The position taken by you on the matter at various points of time has been shocking. In mid-April, when you were asked about the complaint,you acknowledged that the complainant had met you but claimed that you had “not seen the letter” with reference to her letter of complaint. (Times of India, 16 April 2007, “DU don faces sex abuse charge”)
3. Worse was still to come. The Apex Complaints Committee (ACC), the highest authoritative body under Ordinance XV(D), started inquiring into the complaint and recommended that Prof. Chakrabarty should step down from the post of director of Gandhi Bhavan since the complainant was an employee of Gandhi Bhavan. Such a reasonable step is envisioned in Oridnance XVD: “UUCC/CCC/CPCC/ACC can ask the College/University to suspend the alleged harasser from an administrative post/classes if his/her presence is likely to interfere with the enquiry.” (Ordinance XV(D) Pg 405 Volume I Calendar, University of Delhi)
You refused to heed the ACC and sent out a signal that the law may not apply to Prof. Chakrabarty. Your statement on the ACC recommendation as reported in the media is horrifying. You slammed Ordinance XV(D) by asserting that “A person has to be proved guilty before any step is taken against him. What should I suspend him for?” (Times of India, 20 April 2007, “Gandhi Bhavan chief should step down”) Such a position that equating suspension a person from an administrative post with prejudgement or punishment cannot be that of a Vice Chancellor who is supposed to uphold the Act, Statutes and Ordinances of the University.
You also made remarks that betrayed hostility and an adversarial attitude toward the Apex Complaints Committee for recommending suspension under Ordinance XVD so as to ensure a fair enquiry. You made the following remarks about the ACC recommendation: “I hope the committee members will not get influenced by anything. They don’t come under the Gandhi Bhavan director.” (Times of India, 20 April 2007, “Gandhi Bhavan chief should step down”) Such a statement ridicules the ACC and disregards the rule of law. You must appreciate the relevant laws and why those rules such as suspending the accused from a position of authority till the person is proved innocent are in place.
4. There has been other violations of the provisions of the Ordinance that safeguard the complainant, the witnesses and process of enquiry itself: “one of the witnesses – a Hindi Academy employee – was transferred during the probe while an enquiry was instituted against the complainant and two other witnesses for dereliction of duty. The latter two witnesses are staff at the Gandhi Bhawan. The notices came close on the heels of Sharma lodging the complaint with the university and at Maurice Nagar police station and TOI’s first report in the matter.” (Times of India, 6 August 2007, “Dean holding all positions”)
The Ordinance clearly states that “Filing of a grievance/complaint shall not adversely affect the complainant’s status/job/salary/promotion/grades etc.” and that “The UUCC/CCC/CPCC/ACC should make efforts to ensure that the complainants and the witnesses are not further victimised or discriminated against while it is dealing with the complaint. The committee shall take action against any one who intimidates the complainant or members of the committee, during or after the enquiry.” (Ordinance XV(D) Pg 404 Volume I Calendar, University of Delhi)
5. It is in the same attitude that you ignored the plea by nine faculty members of the Department of Political Science that Prof. Bidyut Chakrabarty be removed from the positions of the Head of the Department of Political Science and the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. They had reported that many students and employees of the Department of Political Science wishing to depose before the enquiry into the Gandhi Bhavan case were feeling vulnerable given the positions occupied by Prof. Chakrabarty.
These faculty members had also brought to your notice incidents of abuse of these positions by Prof. Chakrabarty: demanding letters from those who were seeking ad hoc appointment and those awaiting promotion to the effect that he was not capable of sexual harassment. They had also brought to your notice cases where he had bestowed favours on those who complied.
6. “The enquiry committee which had spoken extensively to students and teachers of the political science department which Chakrabarty heads had reportedly recommended that a broader enquiry be initiated in accordance with the Vishakha judgement and DU’s Ordinance XV(D) into the issues that were highlighted in course of the interviews, where students had claimed that they had been victimised for rejecting Chakrabarty’s “advances”.
The committee is also known to have taken exception to the fact that some of the testimonials of good character that Chakrabarty – who had denied all allegations in front of the committee – had submitted, were from people who were due to appear for promotions through selection committees of which Chakrabarty was a member.” (Times of India, 6 August 2007, “Dean holding all positions”)
7. You refused to observe the University policy on sexual harassment again after the submission of the inquiry report. When the complainant sought a copy of the report of the ACC under the rule “A copy of the final report must be handed to the complainant and the accused” (Page 22, DU Handbook), it was denied to her. She sought the report under RTI Act but her request was once again turned down, this time with reference to sections S8(vii) and S8(viii) which respectively state that “information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes” and “information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.“
It is a cruel irony that the complainant had to seek the report under RTI Act precisely because she had reasonable apprehension that “investigation”, “apprehension” and “prosecution” of the offender is being impeded by those in possession of the report. It is to the credit of the ACC that it has given a copy of the report to the accused as well as the complainant after removing particulars that can identify individuals and make them targets of retribution.
The need for immediate action in the cases of Prof. Arshi and Prof. Chakrabarty can hardly be overemphasised. If action were not taken at once in accordance with the report of the Complaints Committees, the University of Delhi would incur disrepute in the way complaints of sexual harassment are redressed. It is also necessary that apart from the action recommended by the ACC, a further enquiry into the conduct of Prof. Chakrabarty on the basis of the deposition by students and employees of the Department of Political Science be set up.
The cultivated inaction on the part of the University administration is not limited to this case. In fact, it has had serious consequences for those taking up issues of harassment in the University. The University administration is guilty of halting an enquiry into a complaint of harassment filed by a former student of the Department of Urdu against a Professor Irteza Karim of the Department. The inquiry was instituted more than a year ago and was stopped midway. After the matter was raised in various university bodies, we believe that some report has been submitted on the matter recommending action against Prof. Karim. We demand that this report is placed for action in the Executive Council.
A woman faculty member of the Department of Urdu, who had brought up this issue in the Academic Council, has been subjected to a sustained campaign of obscene letters. Despite representations, the University Administration has not taken any steps in apprehending the guilty nor taken up the matter in a concerted way with the police for the purpose. We reiterate our demand that for your intervention in this matter so that the harassment of this woman teacher stops and the guilty are identified and brought to book without any further delay.
Sanjaya Kumar Bohidar