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NLS students get alums involved after ‘500 days’ delay to bring sex harasser to task

The NLS SHIC original order
The NLS SHIC original order

At NLSIU Bangalore the second reported instance of sexual harassment, which occurred in December 2016, has apparently now blown over without consequence as NLS alumni have been asked to get involved for support to expedite punishment for the accused.

Students have petitioned to the alumni stating that 1 year and 4 months after the sexual harassment complaint was lodged with the internal redressal cell (SHIC), the accused in the case was continuing as student at NLS even though the SHIC held him guilty and liable to be rusticated by November 2017.

The petition states that NLSIU has managed a delay of 410 days over and above the statutorily permitted 90 days to wrap up an internal sexual harassment investigation.

NLSIU faculty and SHIC member Prof Yashomathi Ghosh commented: “The [statutory] period of 3 months if for a company. Our college has a trimester system and delay should not be counted in that sense. The complaint was filed in December then immediately in January the college went on vacation. It reopened in March. We have to give adequate notice to parties to submit details, then adequate opportunity to prepare written statements. There were five witnesses from one side, five from the other side and each student’s own difficulty in appearing.”

“All procedural bodies have to follow all the procedural norms fairly otherwise the entire action might get compromised. In our trimester system within 3 months every academic engagement has to be completed so once our committee came about we did it as expeditiously as possible. In a student kind of situation you can’t take the [90 day rule] strictly,” she added.

The petition states:

The grave incident of sexual assault took place and the complaint was filed in December 2016. It has been 1 year and 4 months, but no action has been taken against the Respondent.

Rule 18 of the Code provides that “total time frame for the inquiry process from the time inquiry is initiated to the recommendations being made by the SHIC shall not exceed three months and from then on to the final decision by Registrar or Director shall not take more than one additional month.”

However the SHIC took 11 months to make the recommendations, without any reasons for the unreasonable delay that has occurred. Post that, under Rule 19(E) of the Code, the VC has the power to delay the implementation of the Registrar’s order for a period of 1 month pending the completion of the review process.

However 5 months have passed since the Registrar’s order and no serious effort has been made to implement the corrective action against the Respondent.

It should also be noted that under Section 11(4) of the Sexual Harassment (Prevention,

Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, (‘Act’) the inquiry by the Internal Committee of a workplace is to be completed within 90 days. It has been around 500 days since the filing of the complaint.

The petition has also expressed the grievance that it shouldn’t have taken the SHIC four months since the complaint was lodged to schedule to the first hearing in the inquiry.

The first hearing in the case was in April when Ghosh was not part of the SHIC. She told us that the SHIC was reconstituted in June after the term of the previous committee expired mid-inquiry.

Roadblock: scheduled caste exemption

Despite the eventual SHIC recommendation for the accused student’s rustication in November 2017, which the registrar confirmed through a public order also in November 2017, the accused student has been able to continue at NLS because he was eligible to petition to the National Commission for Scheduled Caste (NCSC) and obtain a stay on the registrar’s order.

The accused had first filed before the vice chancellor for a review of the registrar’s order. The VC confirmed the rustication order on 23 January 2018.

The final step to his rustication was a confirmation by NLSIU’s executive council. However before an EC meeting could be scheduled the accused obtained a stay order from the NCSC by 30 January 2018.

The petition to the alumni states that the NCSC cannot interfere with the law school’s internal order without an inquiry of its own in which both the accused and the law school should get an opportunity to be heard. It states:

We clarify that we are in full support of any inquiry that may take place regarding the claims made in the Respondent’s petition and we in no way wish to hinder that. The NCSC is an extremely important body and is concerned with the grave matter of atrocities being committed against members of Scheduled Castes and we are in full support of their mandate. However in this particular case, to stay an order of the Registrar without any inquiry being conducted by the NCSC violates principles of natural justice. The same vitiates the due process of law and undermines the justice secured by the aggrieved student after months of hardship.

NLSIU VC Prof Venkat Rao directed us to the registrar Prof OV Nandimath for comment.

The perpetrator and the victim are classmates which, the petition urges, has been adding to the victim’s trauma as she has to attend classes facing the presence of the perpetrator to date.

Multiple incidents

This is the second incident of harassment at the law school to have come into wider public knowledge.

The complaint in this instance arose from the perpetrator harassing the victim on the early morning bus ride back from a Mid Law Party, when they both were in second year of LLB. As we had reported, he had been rusticated from NLSIU, pending EC confirmation of the rustication.

Correction: We had initially misstated in the report that this was the third reported instance of sexual harassment at NLSIU. In fact, it’s the second.

In the second instance from December 2016, two perpetrators were subjected to inquiry and were cleared of charges by the SHIC in January 2018.

In the law school’s 15-year history the SHIC had only heard around seven since it was formed.

Read petition (PDF)

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