NUJS Kolkata Students Write To CJI Requesting Suspension Of VC Due To Allegations Of Sexual Harassment By Professor

The Student Juridical Association (SJA) which is the student body of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (WBNUJS) has written to its Chancellor, the Chief Justice of India Dr DY Chandrachud seeking the suspension of the varsity’s Vice-Chancellor (VC) over allegations of sexual harassment at the workplace levelled against him by a professor.

Earlier LiveLaw had reported on an order by the Calcutta High Court which directed the local committee to reconsider the professor’s complaint after it had rejected the same on the ground of limitation.

The letter by the students references the incident of alleged harassment faced by the teacher, as well the alleged retaliatory action taken against her by the Vice-Chancellor by delaying her salary, denial of promotion, etc. The letter states:

“She (complainant) has been made a victim of sexual harassment and misconduct by the Vice Chancellor on several occasions between September 2019 and December 2023. She has reportedly faced delays in salary, denial of promotional opportunities and professional threats arising from her resistance against the Vice Chancellor’s alleged demands. We strongly condemn the presumption of falseness made regarding Associate Professor’s complaints and deliberate attempts by the Vice Chancellor to circumvent the appropriate legal procedure by abusing his position of power. These alleged actions constitute blatant patriarchal exploitation and an attempt to undermine Associate Professor’s respect and dignity at her workplace.”

It is necessary to note the blatant violation of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences Staff Ethics and Code of Conduct (‘MCC’) insofar as the Vice Chancellor has endeavoured to abuse the power vested in him. The MCC requires a staff member to “Maintain absolute integrity and absolute devotion to duty, high ethical standards and honesty at all times.” It is evident that the Vice Chancellor’s actions in circumventing established procedures to quash the complaint against him, refusing to recuse from a committee meeting addressing the allegations against him, and making appointments without EC approval is a blatant violation of the MCC which cannot be sustained,” it adds.

The students have referred to NUJS Policy on Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment, 2016 (hereinafter “Policy” or “NUJS Policy”), which states that sexual harassment for the purposes of the policy may include unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favours, whether express or implied as well as “any physical, verbal, non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature when acquiescence to the same is leveraged against the individual’s employment, or involvement in University activities or interferes with professional or academic progress or creates a hostile environment in the University.”

An arbitrary dismissal of the Complainant’s claims not only taints the principles that NUJS has historically espoused but also creates an unsafe institutional atmosphere and trust deficit for students, particularly victim-survivors of harassment. Section 19 of the PoSH Act obligates employers to provide a safe workplace environment, it has been stated.

The letter also calls out the alleged hostility and indifference by the University Administration and repeated retaliatory actions undertaken by the Vice Chancellor against the complainant are unequivocally condemned by the student body. It also condemns the alleged actions of other faculty and non-faculty staff who have allegedly subjected the Associate Professor to stigmatic, retaliatory and punitive actions. 

In light of the above, the students have laid the following five demands before CJI Chandrachud:

1. Immediate steps be taken to ensure that the complainant/Associate Professor is not further victimised or subjected to any harassment or hostility from faculty/non-faculty staff and a thorough, unbiased investigation against the Vice-Chancellor regarding allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation.

2. Immediate suspension of the Vice Chancellor from his office and that he be prevented from undertaking any duties or responsibilities as the university’s Vice Chancellor until his acquittal.

3. Any alleged attempts by the Vice Chancellor to influence EC meetings called to hear the grievances of (the complainant) be deemed an abuse of power and authority vested in him by the University, and his alleged refusal to recuse himself from such meetings violates the basic principles of natural justice. VC be restrained from influencing the course of any proceedings instituted against him and he recuses himself from any subsequent EC meeting called to discuss the same subject matter.

4. The farcical and retaliatory fact-finding committee created by the Vice Chancellor against the Associate Professor be dismissed. The students condemn the alleged actions of the Vice Chancellor and his close aides within the faculty for misusing the authority vested in the University’s administration to arm-twist and intimidate the victim and cause her aggravated suffering.

5. Owing to a lack of confidence of the NUJS General Body towards the Vice Chancellor, coupled with the allegations discussed, the students demand that no extension be granted to him for the position of Vice-Chancellor.

“We note that the Vice Chancellor has allegedly attempted to immunise himself against allegations surrounding inappropriate sexual conduct by abusing the authority vested in him as the Vice Chancellor and Chairman of the EC, and in doing so, has betrayed the trust placed in him as the head of an institution such as NUJS,” the letter stated.

Accordingly, the students have called for the Executive Council (EC) to not grant an extension of term to the Vice-Chancellor at its upcoming meeting, scheduled to be held on Tuesday, 28th May 2024.

Click here to read resolution

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