Thursday, Sep 18, 2014

Harassment, faculty exit, admin failure, NUJS V-C faces campus anger

NUJS: New sexual harassment guidelines being drafted.Express file NUJS: New sexual harassment guidelines being drafted. Express file
Written by Madhuparna Das | Kolkata | Posted: January 14, 2014 4:00 am

The National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS) seems to be beset with problems. While two of its former students have alleged sexual harassment during their internship with two former Supreme Court judges, Assistant Registrar Siddhartha Guha was arrested on December 26 following a police complaint filed by a woman employee alleging sexual misconduct.

Moreover, signalling growing discontent against Vice-Chancellor Prof Ishwara Bhat, Prof Shamnad Basheer, a senior faculty member, resigned earlier this month citing “leadership issues”. A group of NUJS alumni has also launched a campaign seeking a change of leadership at the university. Adding to the general gloom is a not-so-good placement year.

“We believe that many more such cases are waiting to be exposed. Our students are bold enough to register their protests against such incidents. But the university too is responsible for failing to protect its students. Two of our students have now come forward and put their allegations on record. They would not have waited so long if there was a mechanism in the university. We do not have any policy for interns. And the lack of leadership is beginning to be felt in the university,” said Basheer, adding that he was “disgusted” with the happenings in the university.

The university authorities are now drafting guidelines titled “Draft rules on sexual harassment at internship”.

“The guidelines are in the drafting stage and are yet to be finalised. We expect to place it in our executive council meeting,” said Bhat.

He said the guidelines would ensure a formal process of taking action against the reported harassment of any student, irrespective of whether the internship was provided by the university or the student was working on her own. University officials said students would be sensitised on how to deal with such cases and would be encouraged to lodge complaints.

Bhat admitted that law students seemed to be vulnerable to such incidents as they often intern under influential judges. “I never received such complaints from my students. The first allegation we came to know about was against Justice A K Ganguly. We are still unaware of the second complaint,” he said.

In the case of the Assistant Registrar, Bhat said he was suspended after they received the written complaint. But some students and staff complained that despite setting up an internal complaints committee, the NUJS authorities had failed to take prompt action against Guha. They alleged that the panel sat on the complaint for over five months, although the alleged victim complained to the V-C four times. She later went to the police and filed a complaint, after which Guha was arrested.

According to sources, the panel, a quasi-judicial body chaired by a senior faculty member with five other members, has the power to recommend dismissal of the accused.

“Since there is no redressal mechanism in place, our students could not come to us and lodge a complaint. The internal complaints committee could not set an example of taking proper action,” added another faculty member.

Another senior faculty member who did not want to be named said they had been pushing for an “anti-sexual harassment helpline”, along the lines of the “anti-ragging helpline” implemented by the UGC. However, no action has been taken yet, he said.

“These incidents are harming our profession and there should be a mechanism in all law schools to deal with them,” said Shourya Sengupta, a final year student at NUJS.

“One student needs to complete at least five internships, according to the Bar Council. The students need protection. We have heard that our V-C has set up a committee to draft guidelines to deal with sexual harassment cases, but we are waiting to see what steps are being implemented,” said Akshat Gupta, president of the students’ association.

Meanwhile, a faculty member admitted that while most of the students were placed in highly reputed companies last year, the number has dipped this year. While the big law firms start visiting the college in July, the placement season normally goes on till December. But this year, with many students yet to get jobs, at least seven companies visited the campus in January also.

But the V-C said, “Till now, I cannot say that there is a dip as I am yet to get the statistics. Moreover, the placement process is still going on. And till it is complete, we cannot say that there has been a difference.”

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