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Symbi Hyd suspends students who posted about campus sex harassment, claims were ‘maligning institution’

Symbi Hyderabad publishes ‘statement of truth’ on website, which 2 students deny
Symbi Hyderabad publishes ‘statement of truth’ on website, which 2 students deny

Symbiosis Law School (SLS) Hyderabad has attracted the threat of a nationwide agitation after it suspended two female students who had complained of sexual harassment on the law school’s campus, reported Firstpost and others.

The Students Federation of India published a notice stating that it “will launch a nation-wide agitation in the interest of students” if Symbiosis did not withdraw the suspension of the complainants immediately.

The complainants allege that they are being targeted by Symbiosis for calling out sexual harassment on campus.

However, the law school alleges that the complainants were being suspended in order to take disciplinary action against them for issues unrelated to their sexual harassment complaints, and has posted a “statement of truth”, that pops up on the law school website’s frontpage (see excerpt above).

Complainants’ complaints

The complainants had written to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the National Commission for Women and other organisations in April detailing several incidents of sexual harassment on campus, including the case of an assistant professor against whom 60 students had complained in 2015 about behavior such as ogling at their bodies.

The complainants had also alleged that Symbiosis responded to sexual harassment complaints by asking students to give undertakings that what they had experienced was in fact not sexual harassment, and that there was no properly constituted Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) on campus.

After the letters they sent in April, one of the complainants acted again on 10 October by sharing a screenshot of an Instagram page by another female student at Symbiosis detailing her own account of sexual harassment by the assistant professor, who had been accused by 60 students. In this post the complainant expressed her lack of faith in the credibility of the law school’s sexual harassment inquiry against the accused assistant professor, as he was continuing as part of the law school’s grievance redressal committee even after the administration had allegedly “severely reprimanded” him for his harassing behavior.

On 13 October, this complainant again posted publicly on her Facebook page that:

[sexually harassed] women students have been to both Director and [an ICC member] multiple times and nothing has been done, even though institution has accepted to reprimanding him. Students are already intimidated about being individually targeted, there is no space for reapproaching the institution. The institution has itself shutdown the doors. Now it has to create the confidence again in students. Otherwise I see an agenda in place in protecting this individual and shutting doors on us. SYMBIOSIS needs to approach its students on its own, we will one day tell the world of all the mishaps. There will be was of #metoo for years to come.

On 15 October she posted about “moral policing in Symbiosis” by the administration instructing guards to shoot videos of students found indulging in “unhealthy, undesirable and indecent activity” and alleged that the law school was continuing to “slutshame women, manhandle students and dehumanise them”.

Another Facebook post by the complainants after this had called the director “immature, dictatorial and a compulsive liar”.

Allegations against two students from SLS website
Allegations against two students from SLS website

Rustication

Symbiosis’ dean asked the complainants on 25 October to take down these Facebook posts about the law school and sign an undertaking stating that they would not publish posts like these in the future, failing which they will be rusticated, according to the joint statement of the two complainants on Facebook.

The Facebook posts are still live and publicly accessible and on 26 October the complainants were rusticated.

Symbiosis principle director Dr Vidya Yeravdekar told Firstpost: “These girls have been writing terrible things about the institute, about the director; they even had issues with other students. Their posts were not only maligning the institution but also maligning the careers of so many students. There is a whole batch of students who are going to be placed this December, what happens to their careers? You can’t go on social media and start writing what you feel and spoil the careers of other 1,000 students.”

SLS’ director Dr Sukhvinder Singh Dari told Firstpost, “Their expulsion is not related to that (flagging sexual harassment in the campus), it is something different. For the last two years, these two students have been found guilty in disciplinary issues. Now they have joined this with #MeToo movement, which is not correct.”

The complainants, who were now in their fourth year of law school, stated in their joint statement that a disciplinary committee had been constituted against them after their sixth semester end exams allegedly for hostel rules violations. They allege in their statement that to date they have not been given a copy of the charge sheet in those disciplinary proceedings and were not called to even a single hearing of the proceedings.

We have reached out to one of the complainants for further comment.

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