New Delhi: Nearly 200 alumni of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru, have written to the institution accusing it of taking “arbitrary action” against two students in connection with a sexual harassment complaint.
The incident in question pertains to allegations of sexual harassment levelled against a student of the institution by a non-student.
According to the open letter dated 22 June that has been shared on Twitter, two facilitators appointed under the university’s Code to Combat Sexual Harassment (SHARIC) have been penalised for “major misconduct” for having shared the “victim’s experience of sexual harassment” on a Facebook group as well as through the institution’s internal email in March this year.
On its part, NLS told ThePrint that the student facilitators didn’t say in their narration if the incident had indeed taken place on campus. The institution also said the two facilitators had gone beyond their mandate and disclosed personal information, such as the name of the alleged harasser, on a public platform.
NLSIU, also known as NLS, is a premier institution, ranked the top law college in the Ministry of Education’s National Institutional Ranking Framework 2021.
The two student facilitators have been stripped of their position and responsibilities after interdisciplinary proceedings, the letter claims.
Also Read: Rape is a war crime that goes unpunished
‘Courageous and principled stance’
The letter, started as a petition by alumna Mukta Joshi, urges the university to reconsider and reverse its decision.
“We commend the courageous and principled stance taken by the student facilitators,” the letter says. “Furthermore we unequivocally condemn NLSUI’s finding that the student facilitators are guilty of ‘major misconduct’.”
National Law School of India University, Bangalore has shockingly punished 2 students (both women) for the simple act of naming a perpetrator of sexual harassment. Nearly 200 alumni have issued a statement condemning the university’s arbitrary action. Please read and share: (1/n) pic.twitter.com/AMeqkVwKX0
— Mukta Joshi (@mukta_jo) June 22, 2022
The letter also quotes the student facilitators as saying that they had sought advice from the campus sexual harassment policy adviser.
The alumni letter claims that sharing accounts of sexual harassment wasn’t a new phenomenon at NLS — when the ‘Me Too’ movement against sexual misdemeanours swept the globe in 2018, students shared their accounts on the institution’s internal email or the same Facebook group where the account in question was posted, it says.
It asks the institute to “reconsider its decision on survivors sharing personal accounts of sexual violence, the acts of which would themselves attract penalties under the NLSUI’s Code to Combat Sexual Harassment”, and “refrain from punishing and penalising survivors of sexual harassment and those who stand for them”.
A student of the institution who did not want to be named told ThePrint that the institution had asked the facilitators to either apologise or pay a fine of Rs 5,000. The two chose to do the latter, the student said.
Another student said the college initiated disciplinary proceedings after the alleged harasser raised a complaint with the administration. “These disciplinary proceedings can only be undertaken after a student raises a complaint,” the student added.
Speaking to ThePrint, Mukta Joshi said “major misconduct” was a grave charge “levied on students who misbehave with professors or damage physical property”.
“We are of the opinion that the two students have not done anything wrong. We see merit in their decision to pay the monetary fine because had they apologised nobody would have ever spoken up against sexual harassment,” she said.
The university said in its response to ThePrint that the student facilitators were found to have violated Part II (a)(1) of its Principles of Conduct, 2002.
The statement quotes the clause as saying that “any conduct that causes serious physical or emotional harm to any person, whether or not a member of the university community, is considered as major misconduct”.
The NLS said the two students were appointed facilitators under the code to “assist and counsel victims of sexual harassment as well as alleged perpetrators”.
“The students received a correspondence, in their capacity as facilitators, from a person outside the university who alleged she was sexually harassed by an NLSIU student. The correspondence does not indicate that the alleged harassment occurred on the NLSIU campus,” the statement said.
The institution said that the two facilitators had circulated “an anonymous statement on behalf of the complainant, detailing the alleged abuse, naming the accused student, and disclosing sensitive personal information” via broadcast email to the student body of NLSIU, and a social media handle operated by the Student Bar Association”.
“The student facilitators have bypassed the sexual harassment mechanisms provided by the university which they were entrusted with upholding in their role as facilitators,” the statement added.
The university claimed its rules prohibit revealing the identity of any of the parties involved on a public platform.
Apart from the rules of conduct, the statement said, interdisciplinary proceedings had also found the student facilitators guilty of breach under NLSIU IT Policies, 2020, “for violating the right to privacy of the complainant and disclosing sensitive personal information; for causing harassment to the complainant; and for sending an unauthorised email”.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
Source: The Print