Sexual harassment: Is Mysore varsity buying time?

Sexual harassment: Is Mysore varsity buying time?

This may sound like a bad news for a business company, but when it comes to the 94-year-old University of Mysore (UoM), this doesn’t really mean much.

After 12-15 inquiries, the University Syndicate, which met on June 24 amidst thick speculations relating to the recent case of alleged sexual harassment, deferred the decision quoting an intra-departmental inquiry that was in the case.

A clear violation of Supreme Court guidelines which hold the report submitted by the Complaint Committee against Sexual Harassment (CCSH) above all other investigations being carried out by various bodies. The university has truly risked its reputation and faces allegations of favouring the guilty.

That the departmental inquiry was taken up by a single member committee in recent days, when the five-member CCSH had neared the end of its investigation, leaves a lot of gaping holes which can be interpreted in many ways. The committee is headed by Dr Yashodhara and the enquiry panel had five members drawn from different departments of the university.

“This will certainly demotivate a lot of girls from complaining against such behaviour. At the same time, perpetrators will gain a lot of confidence,” said one of the members of the committee, which submitted its report recently, indicting Dr Shivabasavaiah, now the suspended chairman of the department of zoology.

He faces charges of sexually harassing research scholar Sarita, who was pursuing PhD under his guidance for over the past one year. The report submitted by the committee had raised quite a bit of curiosity among the students, who for the first time, assumed that something would be done to reinstate their faith in the varsity —- that it does care for their wellbeing and safety.

“The university authorities never took pride in having constituted the committee. In fact, when accreditation committees such as NAAC came, the committee never found a mention, since higher-ups thought it was not an achievement,” says Prof C Sarvamangala, former principal of Maharaja’s College who had served as the chairperson of CCSH.

For many girl students too, this decision of the university has come as a shocker. “After the case became public, the least we expected was some action against the guilty, even if it was a hogwash. Initially, his suspension meant something to us. But, the other day my friend mentioned the professor is still entitled to 50 to 70 per cent of his salary. For all we know, he might be preparing his paper for the next international conference at the university’s expense, when he rejoins the department,” said Sneha Rajgopal (name changed).

According to sources, though 26 complaints have been registered with the committee in the last six years, the university has not initiated punitive action even in one case. Those found guilty by the committee are being let off with a mild warning and an entry in their service registers. Some have even been sent back to their parent departments.

Background

Sarita had lodged a complaint with Vice-Chancellor (VC) V G Talwar on March 1, 2011, about Shivabasavaiah sexually harassing her.

Meanwhile, she turned distraught and her husband lodged complaints with SHRC, Women’s Commission and also the Vice-Chancellor. In a subsequent meeting, some unpleasant arguments ensued and Sarita attempted suicide on March 5. This prompted the university to take up a hurried investigation and police booked a case against both Shivabasavaiah and Talwar.

VC under pressure

According to sources, VC Prof V G Talwar has come under extreme pressure from various quarters. Going by the record of other culprits being let off with a mild warning, stress has been mounted on Talwar that the decision in this case also be in line with ‘history’. Hence, the dilly-dallying. The question that is currently doing the rounds is: why should Shivabasavaiah be penalised more strongly than others?

SHRC may ask varsity to act on report

In a major turn of events, the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) is likely to recommend to the University of Mysore to act on the report submitted by the CCSH. A highly placed source said: “Carrying out investigations even after a valid committee has submitted its report isn’t a fair thing to do. The university should have constituted this committee (of departmental inquiry) much earlier and ensured that the report arrived earlier.”

The recommendation is said to be based on Rule 17(1)(b) of the Human Rights Act, which forbids parallel investigation by any committee or agency for the same case. This is expected to be communicated to University of Mysore shortly.

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