A research scholar from IIT Bombay has moved the Bombay High Court, seeking his PhD degree which was withheld on account of an “unsatisfactory apology” in a sexual harassment complaint lodged by an assistant professor. On Wednesday, the court pulled up the researcher, stating that he can express his views but not make comments on the woman’s personality.
The scholar has completed his Master of Philosophy and is designated as Senior Research Scholar.
The petitioner also raised a Constitutional question with regard to the validity of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act in a case in which there is no relationship of employer and employee and also when the IIT Bombay cannot be regarded as workplace of the petitioner as he is only a student.
A division bench of Justice S C Dharmadhikari and Justice Gautam Patel was hearing the matter. “What is the question of making any comment on her personality?…It is a personal attack and it is uncalled for,” said Justice Patel.
The court further said that it will pass orders.
According to petition, in December 2017, posters with slogan “Stop Hindutva Terrorism” were placed outside the boy’s hostel mess. These posters were pasted by students calling themselves members of Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC).
The petitioner, by an email in April 2018 to the Dean, informed about activities of APPSC and objected to the tone and tenor of the speech by a professor, who had allegedly criticised Hindus and the caste system in a lecture.
The petitioner alleged that members of APPSC, conniving with an assistant woman professor, planned to silence him. He said the professor by an email on April 19, 2018, invited him for an informal meeting. To this, the petitioner replied that “she is a lady of virtues” and the petitioner is “full of respect for the virtuous women” and that he would not be afraid of meeting her.
He added that APPFC professors and other faculty members “wrongfully construed” the reply as sexist remarks and organised a signature campaign against him.
He alleged that with the “orchestrated campaign and signature drive” losing steam, the respondent no 9 (woman professor) lodged a complaint of sexual harassment at workplace” and it was referred to the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC).
While the complaint was lodged, the petitioner had successfully appeared for viva-voce for his Phd thesis in April 2018.
The petition added that the chairperson of ICC then mailed the HOD of his department, directing to withhold all clearances of the petitioner pending inquiry.
The ICC last year recorded that “it finds merit in the complaint” and directed the petitioner to tender an apology in a manner prescribed.
The decision of ICC was upheld by the appellate authority, which asked him to apologise. In August, the petitioner submitted an apology. He was given his provisional degree, but during the convocation ceremony of PhD 2017-2018, the petitioner was not conferred his degree.
In December 2018, the petitioner was informed by Directorate of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievance that the apology was found to be unsatisfactory and, therefore, his degree is being withheld.