Wednesday, December 12, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Sexual harassment cases mar image of university
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, December 11
Ms Amar (not real name) of one of the departments of Guru Nanak Dev University is alleged to have been sexually harassed towards the end of June, 2001, by the Head of the Department. Ms Amar is unmarried and a lecturer in her department.

Ms Laxmi Kanta Chawla, a BJP MLA
Ms Laxmi Kanta Chawla, a BJP MLA

Dr. S. P. Singh, Vice Chancellor, Guru Nanak Dev University
Dr. S. P. Singh, Vice Chancellor, Guru Nanak Dev University

Satya Pal Dang, a veteran CPI leader
Satya Pal Dang, a veteran CPI leader

Ms Amar submitted a representation to the Vice-Chancellor demanding that the “culprit” be suitably punished. She pursued the matter vigorously. Not only nothing was being done to ensure justice, she even got “threats”. However, she made representations to some higher authorities, which asked the Vice-Chancellor to hold an inquiry and submit a report.

An inquiry committee was constituted. But Ms Amar submitted that its composition violated the law as laid down by the Supreme Court in a judgement dealing with sexual harassment of women at work places. So much so that a male was appointed the chairman of the committee instead of a woman as required by relevant case law. The university authorities were thus forced to reconstitute the committee.

Unfortunately, even the committee inspires no confidence. The chairperson is the junior-most amongst women Professors and Readers. Another member has been “threatening” Ms Amar on behalf of the culprit. Yet another member was once involved in a brawl. An FIR was recorded against him. However, the then Vice-Chancellor had brought about a compromise. The matter had become a public “scandal” and was widely reported by the media.

CPI leader Satya Pal Dang has written a three-page confidential letter to Lt-Gen J.F.R. Jacob, Governor and Chancellor of the university exposing startling cases of sexual harassment in the university, especially guides of Ph.D. He has alleged that there have been quite a few sex (harassment etc) scandals in the university during the past. Not even in one case, deterrent punishment was given by the university authorities. Mr Dang has alleged that in many such cases victims chose to keep quiet for obvious reasons. The letter says: “It seems there exists a clique in the GNDU which indulges in such anti-social activities. The clique tries to “manage” every Vice-Chancellor and has obviously been successful with some of them. It is a pity that such things happen in a university named after Guru Nanak Dev ji.”

Another case quoted in the confidential letter to the Chancellor is about the examination centre. It reads: “A place outside Amritsar district was made the examination centre for a girl student coming from a poor family with the assurance that she would be helped in answering the question papers in return for sexual favours. After the event the matter became public. An inquiry had to be ordered. The superintendent (who had written the answer book) was dismissed but alleged high-up culprits were given a clean chit and let off. After some time the dismissed superintendent too was reinstated.”

Another startling case reads: “The Head of one department sexually harassed a girl student (she was perhaps the daughter of a police officer). She had managed to tape record what all highly objectionable things the head had spoken to her. It was only after nine long years or so that the culprit was punished. Punishment was not more than demotion. In yet another case, the head who sexually harassed Ms Amar had earlier harassed Ms Bhandari (not real name). However, when TNS sought the version of the Head of the Department, he alleged that he was a victim of ‘departmental rivalry’. Some of the students and coaches approached by this correspondent alleged that Ms Amar could not collect the data as per the direction of her guide which was mandatory for Ph.D degree.

Ms Chawla, a BJP MLA, said the Supreme Court should take cognisance of the matter and send a team for implementation of its directives. Exemplary punishment should be given to the culprits if found guilty. She claimed that at least four girls who had been victims of sexual harassment approached her for justice. Expressing concern over the rise in sexual harassment cases, especially in universities, Ms Chawla said similar cases reported from the Punjab Technical University. Though she had approached the Chief Minister, the Vice-Chancellor was given extension instead. She alleged that the women’s cell created by the state government, headed by an IAS officer too was ‘non-functional’.

However, Dr S.P. Singh, Vice-Chancellor said he had already ordered an inquiry into the matter which would be completed shortly.

When contacted Dr Balwinder Arora chairperson of the Commission for Women Cell of the varsity, said she would be able to say anything only after the completion of the inquiry.

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