Sexual harassment is a serious offence. However, in this country, it is yet to be treated as one.
With college administrations and organisations across India allegedly refusing to recognise the grave situations that most victims have to deal with, university campuses are hotbeds of cases of sexual harassment.
The recent incident in Nalanda University has allegedly proved to be no different. Despite multiple complaints of sexual harassment filed by students against a resident scholar, the administration of Nalanda University (NU), headed by the interim Vice Chancellor (VC), Pankaj Mohan, has allegedly shielded the accused by interfering in the processing of the complaints.
One of India’s most prestigious international investments in the education sector, NU faces student protests in the wake of Pankaj Mohan’s ‘dismissive stance’ in this case. Despite the university’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) ruling in favour of rusticating the defendant, the office of the interim VC has allegedly proven to be a stumbling block, till date.
Citing his intention to ‘protect the reputation of the University,’ the interim VC seems not to have recognised the gravity of the situation. Consequently, the students are standing in protest, demanding the resignation of Pankaj Mohan from all posts. They are also demanding that the student should be rusticated and a FIR be lodged against the defendant by the institution.
The university has allegedly been ignorant of the necessity of gender sensitisation and addressing issues pertaining to the sexual harassment and the safety of women. Besides, allegedly, very few avenues of communication and redressal exist for students at NU. Moreover, initiatives taken to rally the community around issues such as sexual harassment seem to receive lukewarm responses here.
The high-level administration has allegedly sought to protect a molester, a sexual offender – someone who has been perceived as a constant threat to the safety and security of fellow students. Pankaj Mohan has also allegedly chosen to question the processes of the ICC and its decisions (taken by competent professors and a lawyer) with regard to the expulsion of the accused.
The university has allegedly refused to file an FIR, till now, and has shifted the accused to a different hostel. Instead of revoking all his privileges, the university continues to harbour an alleged sexual offender. A university should also provide a safe and secure living environment. However, Nalanda University has failed to provide such an environment.
Nalanda University’s ambitious vision of starting afresh, beginning anew on the foundations of a rich history seems to have some gaping loopholes. Its constantly reiterated ‘international vision’ – accommodating students from over 13 countries – now seems lacklustre in the face of the administration’s alleged ineptitude in acting on the complaints filed.
Therefore, before beginning to construct its famed 500 acre campus, the university needs to rethink how it intends to function. It also needs to revise the way it allegedly addresses accusations of sexual harassment. As of now, it simply sidesteps these responsibilities, by allegedly imposing them on the student body.
This is not the way an ‘international university’ should behave. Neither should any university address allegations of sexual harassment in the manner NU has allegedly done.
In this case, despite the numerous complaints against the accused, the university is yet to deliver justice. The students of Nalanda University yet await a trace of fair judgement in the handling of these multiple and alleged cases of harassment. If the perpetrators of a crime as grievous as a sexual offence are seemingly sheltered, the protests will continue.
Note: The post was originally published with an incorrect byline. The error is regretted.