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NLSIU in sexism row: 3rd years in shorts literally stand up to Prof over alleged dress-code-shaming

Shorts: Too sexy for NLS?
Shorts: Too sexy for NLS?

NLSIU Bangalore professor V Nagaraj allegedly shamed a student on Monday for wearing shorts to his lecture, and allegedly cast aspersions on the student’s character when she objected to the statements of the professor over her attire.

In protest, the entire third-year LLB class attended Nagaraj’s lecture wearing shorts this morning: the class stood up in protest, demanding an apology from Nagaraj; the professor refused to apologise, confirmed sources in the class, and the lecture did not take place.

Nagaraj denied any wrongdoing when contacted by Legally India but said he expected decorum in students’ dress sense (see below).

According to a “statement of condemnation” with allegations by third-year students, emailed to the vice chancellor, all faculty members, the exam department and all law students:

As many students of the III year batch of B.A., LL.B. (Hons.), NLSIU, we issue this statement strongly condemning the extremely shameful incident in which a Professor has made inappropriate remarks to a III year student in our presence.

We are extremely aggrieved about the fact that:

a. The Professor publicly shamed the student for the clothes she chose to wear, and

b. The Professor cast aspersions on the students character for voicing her concerns.

The incident under protest is as follows:

The student in question, like various other students, had worn shorts to class. On noticing the shorts, the said Professor chastised the student before the entire class by asking her to “dress properly.” The student was deeply uncomfortable with the remark, as were many of us, since we do not think it is correct for a teacher to impose his/her notions about appropriate clothing upon the students. The student in question, who was scolded by the said Professor, thought it necessary to further discuss the matter with him and not to overlook it as another instance of moral policing. Upon approaching the teacher and raising objections regarding his statement, the student, to our dismay, was again rebuked by the Professor and was exposed to a plethora of untoward comments.

In the presence of many of us, the Professor went to the extent of drawing an extremely distasteful analogy as to why the student should not wear shorts and said, “We all know why parents marry their children off - so that they can have sex. Just because the parents marry off their children for this reason, it does not mean that the children have sex in front of their parents.”

Needless to add, we were all stunned into silence on hearing a distinguished member of the faculty make such a crude comment. The student was appalled at this reasoning and respectfully objected to the same. The Professor then proceeded to cast aspersions on the character of the student. He denounced her credibility entirely and went on to state,“You can come to class without a dress also. That is how your character is, I’m going to ignore you.”

This incident left the student in an uncomfortable position with her character being called into question by the said Professor because she attempted to question his method of public censure. As a consequence of this incident, the student has been extremely aggreived and has asked the Vice-Chancellor to look into the matter and we hope that action will be taken by him against the said Professor.

We find such behaviour extremely unacceptable, especially coming from a Professor, who students are expected to consider as a role model. NLS has taught us to value discourse above everything else and to be tolerant of individual choices. The behaviour highlighted above goes against the spirit of this institution. Therefore, we believe it is imperative that such aberrant actions be denounced by the University as a whole with immediate effect. We also demand that a public apology be issued by the teacher in question to the concerned student and the institution as a whole.

In solidarity with the concerned student, and as a mark of protest against the Professor, we choose to exercise our right to personal expression and comfort by wearing shorts to the class of the concerned Professor. However, we would like to clarify that this statement is not merely against moral policing, but also, in particular, against the derogatory remarks made by the Professor.”

When contacted by Legally India, Nagaraj commented: “Nothing like [what is described in the statement] happened. Students are making false and baseless allegations. It is for the university authorities to examine this incident. This is the first time that students have made such a statement [whereas] I have been teaching for 27 years.”

“I had already informed the vice chancellor and the registrar, by email, when the incident happened on Monday. Then I reminded them on phone. But the VC is out of station and the university has taken no action so far so it has become a free for all,” he added.

Nagaraj told Legally India that there was no written dress code for students in NLSIU’s rules currently but he has asked the university administration to issue clarifications about the dress code to the students, especially keeping in mind that “certain decorum” is expected from students attending lectures taken “especially by a senior faculty member”.

NLSIU vice chancellor Prof Venkat Rao was not reachable for comment by phone at the time of going to press.

The NLSIU sexual harassment committee’s former in-charge, Prof VS Elizabeth, replied to the statement and all addressees via email:

As someone who has been guilty of having reprimanded at least one woman student in the past and then brought to realise how sexist my attitude had been, by the batch of 2017, I must say that it is important that all of us, particularly, faculty should think before we make comments, particularly should not be casting aspersions on people's character based on what they wear or don't wear.  After all the amount of cloth we use to cover our bodies does not proportionately reflect our morality.  Many sexual abusers of children and women most certainly wear more clothes, does it mean that they are more moral than the rest of us? 

I realised during the classroom discussion that took place, at least two years ago, that the problem was with my attitude and not with the young woman who wore those micro mini shorts.

I have never liked my colleagues' comments about what I wear or don't wear and have always opposed any dress code being imposed on the faculty, though there have been colleagues who wished to do so.  I am really sorry that one of my colleagues said things that are unwarranted and caused pain to one of the students.

This sort of thing should not happen in an institution like ours.

UPDATE: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the vice chancellor has responded to the complaint on general email addressed to everyone who recieved the original email from the students.

Photo by Alan Patrick

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