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NUJS shelves sex harassment cell’s 2-to-1 call that lewd inter-staff messages were ‘romantic’

NUJS: 'Romantic interest and love'?
NUJS: 'Romantic interest and love'?
NUJS Kolkata’s executive council (EC) has rejected its internal sexual harassment committee’s (ICC) observation that allegedly lewd messages sent by one staff member to another were in fact “expressions of romantic interest and love” and were “not sexual in nature”, reported the Telegraph, noting that the Calcutta high court yesterday rejected the accused staff member’s anticipatory bail plea.

The three-member ICC comprises of associate professors Anirban Mazumdar and TVGNS Sudhakar and assistant professor Ruchira Goswami. The ICC made its observation in an interim report submitted to the EC four days after expiry of the 90-day statutory period for submitting final findings under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013.

The EC rejected the report because it was submitted with Sudhakar’s dissenting note, and also because it held there was no provision for an interim report under the law. It has given the committee time to file the final findings “within a few weeks”, said Sudhakar.

Sudhakar told Legally India that he dissented with the majority opinion because “it was fundamentally unreasonable and not at all acceptable”.

He said that he became a part of the ICC on 16 August after his predecessor in the committee, Prof Manoj Kumar Sinha, left to assume directorship of the Indian Law Institute Delhi. He told Legally India that the reason for delay by the committee in submitting any findings was lack of cooperation from the respondent and the failure of the victim to bring any witnesses until the last day before the committee submitted interim findings.

He added that the ICC had even suggested that the accused make an appearance online over Skype but he disagreed, claiming that he was without internet access. Eventually, nearing the lapse of the statutory period, the victim brought a list of witnesses and the committee decided to keep the inquiry pending and submit interim findings in the meantime.

Sudhakar said that the ICC would now begin examination of the victim’s list of witnesses, and would also decide on a way to examine the accused since a chargesheet for his arrest was being framed after rejection of his bail application.

Advocate Pheroze Edulji, who is representing the victim in her criminal complaint in the matter, told the Telegraph that the accused was “in the habit of harassing women”.

The victim had first filed her complaint on 12 June, allegedly over a year after informally bringing the issue to NUJS vice chancellor Ishwara Bhatt’s notice. After no internal hearing in her complaint at the law school for 43 days, she filed a criminal complaint at the Bidhannagar police station in Kolkata against the accused. The law school suspended the accused on 10 August, for non-cooperation in the ICC’s inquiry against him.

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