Letter to VC, 24.10.2008

Implementation of Ordinance XV-D

Prof. Deepak Pental,
Vice-Chancellor
University of Delhi

Dear Prof. Pental,

We wish to draw your attention to the need to address several infirmities in the implementation of Ordinance XV-D which seriously undermine its effectiveness in fighting sexual harassment. We shall refrain from commenting on specific cases so that differences of opinions on the merits of specific cases do not impede a dialogue leading to strengthening the mechanism.

Before placing some shortcomings, lapses and contentious standpoints that need our attention, we wish to explicitly state what we think should be the objective of the mechanism against sexual harassment. The context for institutional mechanism in this case is the recognition that sexual harassment is a reality in various spheres of social interaction and is made worse by power relations, existing gender inequality and a value system that condemns the victims as much as if not more than the perpetrator. While it may not be true that every complaint of sexual harassment is true, it would require us to be completely blind towards reality to believe that sexual harassment is rare.

The need therefore is for a mechanism that functions autonomously from the administration and the existing structures of power hierarchy, for a mechanism that routinely examines each complaint in a time bound manner allowing both the complainant and the accused the right to clearly state their positions and answer questions raised or charges made by the other side. Even the action on the inquiry report needs to be taken in a routine and time bound manner. The routine character is crucial in doing away with the need for a complainant to solicit support from either the administration or groups of teachers, students or karmacharis or their unions/associations. These bodies should limit their interventions to raising questions about non-implementation of rules and to suggestions regarding reformulating rules. Any other intervention that prejudices the inquiry or interferes in the process of the inquiry undermines the very mechanism.

In this regard we would like to bring to your notice that there are complaints of sexual harassment pending, where either inquiry is not completed in time bound manner or even after the completion of the inquiry the reports have not been placed before the Executive Council of the University. Kindly ensure that no such delay is caused in case of recent complaint of sexual harassment against some professors of Hindi Department.

The following issues must be addressed urgently so that the mechanism against sexual harassment is not undermined:

  1. Timely constitution of the College Complaints Committees (CCC), University Unit Complaints Committees (UUCC), Central Pool Complaints Committee (CPCC) and Apex Complaints Committee (ACC) in accordance with the procedure laid down in Ordinance XV-D. In the absence of these, complaints can not be redressed in a timely manner.
  2. Strict adherence to the stipulation that complaints received must be forwarded to the relevant Committee without any delay and to the stipulation that the committees are to complete the process of inquiry within a month.
  3. Routine acceptance by the relevant authority for the suspension of the accused if the inquiry committee feels that the continuance of the accused in specific position unduly interferes with a fair inquiry. Such suspension is neither a pre-judgment nor a punishment. It is a valid and accepted procedure in the interest of justice. Ordinance XV-D provides for time bound inquiry in the interest of both the complainant and the accused.
  4. The experiences of various inquiry committees should be pulled together so that there would be broader agreement on procedures to be followed during the inquiry. The Apex Complaints Committee should interact with all the committees and lay down certain minimum norms to be followed by every committee.
  5. Copies of the reports and the recommendations of the Committees should be given to the complainant and the accused in a form that does not compromise the confidentiality of the details and the witnesses.
  6. These reports must be placed before the Executive Council / Governing Body for action in a time bound manner. The practice of placing a summary in stead of the report should be stopped since summarising involves rewriting where some arguments and recommendations can get overstated / understated.
  7. Not apprising the complainant and the accused of the conclusion of the inquiry into complaints amounts to aiding the harassment of whichever party is innocent.

We hope that the Administration would shoulder the responsibility in ensuring in these early days of the working of Ordinance XV-D that the lapses in the implementation of Ordinance XV-D are plugged and that unforeseen issues that come up in the process are addressed in a way that an independent mechanism of routine and time bound complaint redressal comes into existence. We believe that you would facilitate the efforts made by the Apex Complaints Committee, which is the apex regulatory and appellate body of the University of Delhi for redressal and resolution of complaints of sexual harassment in this regard.

Signed

Rajib Ray, Abha Dev Habib, Bhupinder Chaudhury, Sanjeev Kumar and Najma Rehmani [elected members of the Academic Council]

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