Exclusive: After Protesting Sexism, RGNUL Students Fear Vindictive Administration; Say Faculty Seeking Confidential Names of Complainants From NCW
Students also say that the NCW's recommendations are not being followed by the university.
The students of Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law (RGNUL), Patiala, fear that the faculty members might turn even more hostile towards them after the National Commission for Women (NCW) observed that the university had discriminated on the basis of gender. The NCW fact-finding team submitted its report in April, following the students’ protest against the sexist and misogynistic culture on the campus.
In its report, the three-member team headed by NCW member Chandramukhi Devi had observed that Assistant Professor Shilpa Jain, SP Singh, Assistant Professor Manoj Kumar Sharma, Dr Gaytri Sharma, Assistant Professor Vipan Kumar, Professor Anand Pawar, have displayed rude, impulsive behaviour towards the students. The panel had recommended that teaching faculty members should not be appointed as wardens.
Per the report, Jain, who is a warden and teaches public international law, had informed the fact-finding team that she tendered her resignation on March 20 because several students had complained against her “dictatorial behaviour”. Contrary to Jain’s claims, students say that she is still the warden of the girls’ hostel and heads the moot court committee and the placement cell. They have alleged that her resignation was tendered only to divert the NCW’s attention, and Vice Chancellor Paramjit S Jaswal rejected it later. Assistant warden Shruti Goyal is also a faculty member in the university. Similarly, the wardens in the boys’ hostel are also teachers. Jain did not respond to NewsCentral24x7’s messages.
Other recommendations which have not been abided by the college administration include proper functioning of Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), separate grievance cell and complaint boxes outside common places like the library.
The students say that the environment in the university has become more negative since they protested in March. The NCW report, they underline, was a relief for a short period only as they have realised that the administration is now vindictive towards them.
“The administration still thinks that students were wrong and should not have approached the NCW. Jain heads the moot court committee and placement cell both. She is still the warden and we have to seek permission from her. I am scared that she might make my life more difficult now,” Astha Sharma*, one of the students who spoke to the NCW team, says.
She adds that some faculty members have also arbitrarily changed the marking scheme in the recently concluded mid-term examinations, making it difficult for the students to pass the examination. The female students have alleged that they have to still write their name in the registers if they come to the hostel past midnight, unlike the boys.
Constitution of ICC not according to mandated procedure, claim students
At a time when the Supreme Court is facing severe criticism for the way in which it handled the sexual harassment allegations against CJI Ranjan Gogoi, the students of the prestigious law college have pointed out that the ICC in their college was formed without following the due procedure. Moreover, most of the students have not been made aware of the committee.
In its report, the NCW had mentioned three members of the ICC — Shilpa Jain, Manoj Kumar Sharma and Dr Gaytri Sharma —noting their rude, impulsive behaviour towards students. However, they continue to be a part of the ICC.
One of the members of the ICC, Assistant Professor Tanya Mander, had even filed a writ petition against the university in the Punjab and Haryana High Court in January 2019, regarding the committee being constituted in violation of the law. Mander had filed a sexual harassment complaint against a professor of the institute in August 2018. She had approached the court only after she saw some documents and realised in December 2018 that the administration plans to take no action against the alleged sexual harasser, sources said.
In her petition, Mander has pointed out that an associate professor is the presiding officer of the ICC, a clear violation of UGC regulations on sexual harassment which state that the presiding officer of the ICC in a university has to be a female faculty not below the rank of a professor. The next hearing of the case is on July 18, 2019.
Speaking to News Central24x7, ICC presiding officer, Associate Professor Sharanjit refuted the claim, saying, “We are fully abiding by the mandate of law laid down by Parliament of India.” She pointed out that the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 states that the presiding officer should be “a woman employed at a senior level”.
However, the students underline that Sharanjit cannot be the presiding officer as UGC Regulations specify that if a senior level woman employee (a professor) is not available, the Presiding Officer shall be nominated from other offices or administrative units of the workplace [Regulation 4(1)(a)]. They added that Sharanjit is only a faculty member and does not hold any other department, organisation, undertaking, establishment, enterprise, institution, office, branch or unit established, owned, controlled or substantially funded by RGNUL [as per Regulation 2(o) – definition of a workplace in the UGC regulations].
Sharanjit is the presiding officer of the ICC since October 2017. She said that during her tenure a complaint was received from the students and three students were “nominated” by the vice chancellor. However, Regulation 4 (1) (c) of the UGC regulations states that in matters that involve students, the ICC shall democratically elect three students in a transparent manner.
Faculty member allegedly trying to find out names of complainants
Several sources informed NewsCentral24x7 that Vipan Kumar, another faculty member and warden of the boys’ hostel, has filed an RTI application with the NCW, seeking details of the complaint filed by the students —in order to find out the names of the students that have been kept confidential. Kumar was also named by NCW in its report.
When NewsCentral24x7 contacted Kumar, he refused to confirm the news. “Am I bound to reply to your question? Do you have the authority to ask me a question? I am denying to answer your question,” he told this reporter.
One of the complainants, speaking on condition of anonymity, told NewsCentral24x7, “If Vipan Kumar finds out the names of the complainants, the faculty members will make sure that they create problems for us. I am more worried because this is my final year now. Vipan Kumar’s wife is the assistant warden (Shruti Goyal) too. I hope that at least the administration removes all the faculty members named in the NCW report from the posts of wardens and other important committees.”
*Name changed to protect identity.