An Open Letter to the President of India – Please take sexual harassment seriously

STATEMENT BY CONCERNED CITIZENS

It is shocking that the Hon’ble Visitor appointed Prof Bidyut Chakrabarty to the Executive Council of JNU on 8 October 2015 and his name now features as a candidate for the prestigious position of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Delhi, if this is accurately reported in the media. [1] Both these positions—either as a Vice Chancellor or as a nominated member in an Executive Council of a University—demand impeccable record of academic excellence and integrity. However, it would appear that a record of sexual harassment does not impact the process of appointments in Universities.

It is well known that a sexual harassment case was made by an employee of Gandhi Bhawan on 4.4.07 against the Director, Prof Bidyut Chakrabarty. The Delhi University Apex Committee on Sexual Harassment vide its report that was tabled and accepted by the Executive Council Resolution No 114 dated 8.10.07 resolved that:

  1. A letter of warning be issued to Prof Bidyut Chakrabarty.
  2. He should be asked to step down from the Directorship of Gandhi Bhawan.
  3. He should be debarred from holding any administrative post in the University for a period of three years.

Prof Chakrabarty was removed from the position of Director, Gandhi Bhawan, Head of the Department of Political Science and Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences.

Prof Chakrabarty petitioned to the High Court, Delhi, not on the merits of the complaint but his right to cross-examine the witness (WPC No 8227/2007 dated 29.5.09). The Supreme Court in its order dated 12.1.10 for Special Leave to Appeal directed that cross examination for witnesses be carried out though the ‘witnesses need not be revealed’ and appointed Ms Binu Tamta, the Court Commissioner for the purpose of getting ‘answers to questions’ to be supplied by the respondent Prof Chakrabarty. The statements recorded by the Court Commissioner were heard on 7.5.10 and it was decided that the same be handed over to the Apex Committee for further action and closed the matter.

The Apex Committee considered the court recordings and submitted its report to the EC. The report was finally tabled in the EC on 21.3.12 and Resolution 235 accepted the findings of the committee. ‘The Council further resolved that Prof Bidyut Chakrabarty, be debarred from all the administrative posts and supervisory duties in the University for the remainder period out of the 3 years, if any.’

The Assistant Registrar (CR & Vigilance) wrote to the Head of the Department, Political Science vide letter no. CR-Vigilance/069/2006/17 dated 23.5.12 to implement the above EC resolution.

Further it may be pointed out that Prof. Chakravarti had petitioned the Delhi High Court also to quash  ‘ordinance XV-D of Delhi University on the ground that it is violative of Article(s) 14, 16 and 311 of the Constitution’ (Prof. Bidyut Chakraborty vs Delhi University & Ors., W.P.(C) No.8226/2007, 29 May 2009 at para 2). Justice Sikri and Justice Jain of the Delhi High Court held that since they had ‘read the requirements of complying with fundamental principles of natural justice as implicit in the inquiry procedure’, there was no need to ‘strike down the relevant provisions of Ordinance XV-D of the University of Delhi’ (Prof. Bidyut Chakraborty vs Delhi University & Ors., W.P.(C) No.8226/2007, 29 May 2009 at para 19).

The Visitor and the selection committee have chosen to ignore the Vishakha guidelines wherein the Supreme Court noted that each incident of sexual harassment is a violation of fundamental rights of gender equality and the right of life and liberty: a ‘clear violation of the rights under Articles 14, 15 and 21 of Constitution’.

Any Vice Chancellor or Executive Council member must possess a sterling record on gender equality. These positions demand gender just governance of Universities which includes making policies, judging cases of sexual harassment and an active implementation of the law against sexual harassment at the workplace.

While it is constitutionally mandated that Universities must prevent and redress sexual harassment, it is equally the constitutional duty of any selection committee and the Visitor not to appoint persons who have a record of sexual harassment on such bodies.

We, the undersigned, representing women’s organisations, students and teachers, request the Visitor to uphold this constitutional duty by appointing to such positions only those persons whose commitment to gender justice is beyond question.

Organisations

  1. Sehba Farooqui and Maimoona Mollah, AIDWA
  2. Kavita Krishnan, AIPWA
  3. Sadhna Arya and Vani Subramanium, Saheli
  4. Poonam Kaushik, Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan
  5. Geetha Nambisan, Jagori
  6. Padmini Kumar, Joint Women’s Programme (JWP)
  7. Kalyani Menon Sen, Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression
  8. Moushumi Basu and Deepika Tandon, Secretaries, PUDR

Individuals

  1. Pamela Philipose, Senior Journalist
  2. Shambhavi Prakash, Assistant Professor, CGS, SLLC&S, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  3. Rajesh Kumar Jha, Rajdhani College, DU
  4. Premchand, ARSD college, DU
  5. Pawan Kumar, Aryabhatta College, DU
  6. Satyajit Singh, Professor of Political Science, DU
  7. Navin Gaur, Dyal Singh College, DU
  8. Tanvir Aeijaz, Ramjas College, DU
  9. Mihir Pandey, Ramjas College, DU
  10. Vinita Chandra, Ramjas College, DU
  11. Achin Vanaik, Former Head of Dept of Political Science, DU
  12. Ayesha Kidwai, Professor, CL, SLLC&S Jawaharlal Nehru University
  13. Nivedita Menon, Professor, CCPPT, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  14. Jayati Ghosh, Professor, CESP, SSS, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  15. Uma Chakravarti, Feminist Historian, Delhi
  16. Anand Chakravarti, Retired Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Delhi University
  17. Biswamoy Pati, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Delhi
  18. Rajni Palriwala, Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Delhi University
  19. Kalpana Kannabiran, Director, CSD, Hyderabad
  20. Kaveri Indira, University of Hyderabad
  21. Uma V Chandru, Independent Researcher, Bangalore
  22. Dr Nisha Biswas, Retired Scientist, Kolkata
  23. Patricia Uberoi, Retired Professor of Sociology, Institute of Economic Growth
  24. Kumkum Roy, Professor, CHS, SSS, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  25. Brinda Bose, CES, SLLC&S,  Jawaharlal Nehru University
  26. Mohan Rao, Professor, CSMCH, SSS, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  27. Ritoo M. Jerath, Professor, CRS, SLLC&S, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  28. Madhu Sahni, Professor, CGS, SLLC&S, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  29. Ranjani Mazumdar, Professor, SAA, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  30. Urmimala Sarkar, Professor, SAA, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  31. Sujatha, Professor, CSSS, SSS, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  32. Sameena Dalwai, Associate Professor, Jindal Global Law School, JGU
  33. Saptarshi Mandal, Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School, JGU
  34. Chinmayi Arun, Assistant Professor, NLUD, Delhi
  35. Jhuma Sen, Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School, JGU
  36. Pratiksha Baxi, Associate Professor, CSLG, Jawaharlal Nehru University

[1] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/DU-teachers-dominate-list-of-VC-candidates/articleshow/50178469.cms

8 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the President of India – Please take sexual harassment seriously

  1. Ambar

    Bidyut Chakravarty’s behaviour in the classroom was disgraceful. His lectures were loaded with double entendres and sexual innuendos.

  2. Nirmalangshu

    This statement selectively cites legal orders to create a biased opinion against an individual. Apparently, it deliberately ignores two crucial judgments of the Delhi High Court.

    (1) The statement conceals that the High Court judgment cited above in fact quashed EC resolution 114 that barred the individual from holding certain positions. (2) Another order of the High Court quashed charges of molestation framed in a related FIR.

    Moreover, the High Court summoned the university in 2010 under contempt of court for keeping its injurious actions against the individual alive. The university duly APOLOGIZED IN COURT and wrote to the individual that NO FURTHER ACTION WILL BE TAKEN AGAINST HIM. Both items were prominently covered by The Hindu.

    In this context, the legality of the EC resolution 235 of 2012 is seriously questionable. In any case it was a post-facto banality since the operative period of 3 years expired in 2010.

    With such glaring factual defects, the motivations of the organizers of this petition needs serious examination. The individual concerned is an outstanding academic with wide international recognition. Is professional jealousy the real cause behind this sinister petition?

    1. Nivedita Menon

      Nirmalangshu, three points in response to your passionate defence of someone who may soon become very powerful, though of course I am sure that has nothing to do with your support for a sexual harasser:
      One – the Supreme Court judgement came after the Delhi High Court judgements, and it directed only that the DU Apex Committee should re-open the inquiry to enable cross examination of the witnesses. The courts (including the High Court) did not consider the evidence at all, only commented on the procedure. The Apex Committee duly obeyed the Supreme Court order and permitted Bidyut Chakrabarty to put written questions to witnesses, the nature of which were so obscene and intimidating that the Supreme Court-appointed Commissioner had to actually intervene to ask Chakrabarty’s lawyer to reconsider some of the questions. They did not budge, the cross examination continued, the Apex Committee resubmitted its report, which found Chakrabarty guilty again. In other words, the Supreme Court’s orders were obeyed to the hilt by Delhi University’s Apex Committee, and it has not been challenged since.
      Two – why do you think a report that was submitted in 2010 was tabled in the EC only two full years later, in 2012? A fact that enables you to say it was a “post facto banality”? Because the VC at the time was protecting Chakrabarty, and delayed tabling the report as long as he possibly could. In the meanwhile, from the time the first report was submitted in 2007 to 2012, while the Apex Committee was bound by confidentiality, Chakrabarty had all the time in the world to feed misleading stories to the media about having been “exonerated” by the High Court (which was impossible because the evidence was not ever presented to or examined by the Court at all), and to present technical deficiencies in DU’s (not the Apex Committee’s) procedures, as substantively establishing his innocence. Chakrabarty and his lawyer filed a slew of petitions on technicalities that were designed to tie Delhi University up in knots, so it is not surprising that every day almost for some months, they were able to plant a story in some newspaper or the other about Chakrabarty getting “relief” from the Court and so on.
      We must also remember that the Apex Committee conducted its responsibilities with integrity, while Delhi University was not interested at all in pursuing the case. Some of the technical deficiencies of DU pointed out by the High Court may well have been deliberate.
      Three – Your claim is entirely incorrect (and clearly motivated) that the EC resolution of 2012 is “questionable” in the light of the High Court orders, (even if we were for a moment to accept that these orders were somehow “favourable” to Chakrabarty), because the Supreme Court order in fact established the legality of the Apex Committee’s standing and procedures by appointing a Commissioner only to ensure that cross examination of witnesses could be carried out by the very same Apex Committee, which was then to incorporate this new evidence while reconsidering its report. The Commissioner carried out her duties and the case was closed when the Apex Committee submitted its report to DU.
      As for your laughable claim of “professional jealousy” – women’s organizations and democratic rights activists have professional jealousy of a political scientist? And anybody who has any idea of the academic world can assess for themselves the academic standing of many of the other signatories to this Letter to the President, relative to that of Chakrabarty.

    2. On the contrary, Nirmalangshu, your comment here (and everywhere else on this case) sinisterly cites court orders partially with the sole purpose of confusing the audience methinks. I have been reading your passionate albeit repetitive defense of the venerable Prof. Chakrabarty everywhere and to be honest your repeated assertions about sinister motives of ‘left Mafia’ out to malign him and passive aggressive threats of defamation by the subject of the petition piqued my interest enough to spend the last hour and half reading ALL available court and other records. Let me unpack not ‘two’ but several ‘crucial’ judgments of the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court, some of which, your esteemed gaze may have missed in the frenzy and excitement of this coronation ceremony.

      Even before that, for clarifications’ sake, let me reiterate the ‘facts’ as observed from the documents aka ECR, Delhi High Court orders/judgment, Supreme Court orders/judgment etc. It may be a good idea to be mindful of the dates too. So, off to the brief revisiting of facts:

      1. On 4th April 2007, the SH complaint was sent to the VC and the Apex Committee, DU. The AC after perusal of the complaint, decided that prima facie a case of sexual harassment was made out and set up an Enquiry Committee to investigate the case. *Also in 2007*, an *FIR No. 76/2007* under Section 354,506,509 IPC was lodged in police station Maurice Nagar, Delhi by the complainant. So there were two proceedings—an institutional inquiry process and an investigation under criminal law and both commenced against BC.

      2. The EC (by Resolution No. 114) submitted its report, holding the petitioner guilty of the charges of sexual harassment on 8.10.2007 and on 16.10.2007, vide two separate memorandums (Ref. No. SPA/R/2007/2530 and Ref. No. SPA/R/2007/2531) the executive council of the University, accepted the recommendations made by the committee.

      3. The ^ leads to the *first case in the Delhi High Court* (and for the sake of convenience let me refer to this as DHC-I). BC challenged the ECR and sought quashing of the memorandums in W.P. © No. 8226/2007. Please read the judgment to know that the challenge was on procedural grounds and not merits. DHC delivered the judgment on 29.5.2009, setting aside the memorandums but holding — *“It will be open to the respondents to resume the inquiry held against the petitioner from appropriate stage, conclude it in the light of the observations made and the view taken in this order and thereafter take appropriate disciplinary action against him in accordance with law.”*

      4. In Special Leave to Appeal matter goes to SC [as SLP (Civil) 23060/2009]. On 12.01.2010, the SC directed that cross examination for witnesses be carried out though the ‘witnesses need not be revealed’ and appointed Ms Binu Tamta, the Court Commissioner for the purpose of getting ‘answers to questions’ to be supplied by the respondent BC.

      The statements recorded by the Court Commissioner were heard on 7.5.10 and it was decided that the same be handed over to the Apex Committee for further action and closed the matter.

      In other words, the SC appointed the CC to oversee part of the (modified as per directions) inquiry proceedings.

      5. In the meantime, in August and November 2009, that is after the DHC order and sometime when the case was appealed before the SC, two RTIs were filed and responses received by BC.
      Response indicated that “the Department is still placing reliance on the aforesaid two memorandums”.

      This ‘prompts’ BC to file a contempt petition [CONT.CAS(C) 231/2010] in the Delhi High Court (and for the sake of convenience let me refer to this as DHC-II). It is jawdroppingly surprising why none of the counsels make even a passing reference to the case pending before the SC. Astonishingly, the DHC-II order of 29.2.2010 disposing off the contempt petition has no reference to the SC order of 12.01.2010.

      6. However, pursuant to the SC orders, the Apex Committee considered the (SC) court recordings and submitted its report to the EC on 31.8.2010 and the report was finally tabled in the EC on 21.3.12 and Resolution 235 accepted the findings of the committee. 

      Resolution 235 noted that BC will be debarred from all administrative posts and supervisory duties in the University for the remainder period out of 3 years if any.

      *For all legal, factual, logical purposes, Resolution 235 of EC is what stands. Any insinuation that the said resolution is legally infirm should more appropriately invite contempt proceedings.*

      7. In the meantime, on 9th September 2010, the ‘investigation under criminal law’ route found its closure when the DHC quashed the FIR 76/2007 in Crl.MC No. 544/2009 (DHC-III for the already initiated). With my limited understanding of law, the order could have merited a challenge. But I digress.

      8. To the more interesting and crucial afterlife of law now.

      It appears that there is also a DHC-IV [CS(OS) 2552/2010] pack of orders that concerns the venerable Prof. Chakravorty.

      The last order is of 2014, in the court of Justice Endlaw, with BC’s lawyer asking to be discharged from the case since his client hadn’t contacted him for a year. The court discharged him and dismissed the case.

      The orders show that BC had filed the petition against DU, the director of Gandhi Bhavan and the complainant.

      The DHC on 19th March 2014 pointedly observed ‘the lackadaisical attitude of the plaintiff in pursuing the present case’ and pulls him for not naming the complainant directly as a defendant. The annoyance of the DHC must have been great, because after regular no-shows the court was constrained to burden the plaintiff with a 5000 rupees cost as well.

      The DHC has been kinder in calling his attitude lackadaisical. This is the Vishakha/SHW paradox. Justice K. Chandru of the Madras High Court articulated this as a classic case where the complainant becomes the accused and the accused becomes the complainant. Nothing else will explain this litigiousness without a cause, pun unintended.

      “The individual concerned is an outstanding academic with wide international recognition” – Is academic kinship and sycophancy then the real cause behind this sinister defense of a man who would be king?

  3. K SHESHU BABU

    When eminent persons are appointed to high posts, the minimum need is to consider the past behavioural record of the persons. Regrettably, the present government (and the past governments too!) is appointing persons of its choice regardless of his/her credentials. Sexual harassment is a heinous offence and there has been no clear indication of acquittal from the crime. Still his name appearing as a candidate for VC is an insult to education sector as a whole. Such persons should be debarred from service till they are absolved of the crime. The evidence against him should be strictly taken into account and if found guilty must be imprisoned and legal proceedings should be instituted.
    The government which cries hoarse on juvenile rapes should consider sexual harassment by teaching faculty like Bidyut as a grievous and ghastly offence against women.

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  6. Aditya Nigam

    Nirmalangshu Mukherjee’s strident defense of a known sexual harasser (Ambar’s comment above is only one among scores one can get from women students but let that pass for now) leaves the usual and perennial question unanswered. Where is the the actual person (woman) whose career was destroyed by this sexual harasser? As for Nirmalangshu’s ‘reading’ of the court ‘judgements’, Jhuma Sen’s comment above brilliantly dissects all relevant material and I want to simply underline that at no stage did the HC or SC ever examine the evidence (that being done by the Apex Committee, which continued to hold BC guilty of sexual harassment). So sexual harasser he remains! My point however, is this: how is it that the question of sexual harassment always becomes a surrogate for something else? How is it that the woman harassed always inevitably pales into oblivion – when she is not actually subjected to character assassination by powerful male members of the professoriate? Mukherjee may choose to adorn a third rate political scientist, who is not considered worthy of being called that by most half-way serious people in the profession,with the encomium of being “an academic of international repute”! That is entirely his choice and decision. But why is it that not even by mistake does he once ask about the complainant and her voice? How does her voice become silenced or at best made out to be a surrogate or stand-in for the ‘professional jealousies’ of unnamed people out to get this ‘innocent’ and victimized man? The philosophical question then: How do all cases of sexual harassment, always, by some peculiar ‘cunnning of Reason’ then, reveal themselves to be mere epiphenomena whose COMPLETE TRUTH is known only to the select few (in this case, Bidyut Chakrabarty and Nirmalangshu Mukherjee)? And why is the eternally victimized man always a powerful man who will one day become a vice-chancellor (or some such thing), while the woman who dared to complain will be always mocked as a pawn in some other powerful man’s game?

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