Two students of the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru have been penalised after they shared an incident of sexual harassment with fellow students on behalf of the survivor. The alumni of the institute have condemned the administration’s actions. Two female student facilitators of the university’s Sexual Harassment Inquiry Committee, who were aiding the survivor and shared details of the incident with the student community, have been fined Rs 5,000 each by the university’s disciplinary committee. For sharing details of the incident of sexual harassment over email and a private Facebook group with students of the university, NLSIU reportedly found the two student facilitators guilty of “major misconduct” under its disciplinary rules, asking them to either issue a public apology to the alleged perpetrator, or pay the fine.
The alleged perpetrator is a current student of NLSIU, and the survivor isn’t. The survivor, who didn’t have access to internal NLSIU student communication platforms, had requested the student facilitators to share details of the incident on these platforms, according to Mukta Joshi, who graduated from NLSIU in 2019 and is currently an advocate working with Land Conflict Watch. After they shared details of the sexual harassment incident with the student community, the alleged perpetrator approached the disciplinary committee with a complaint against the two students, Mukta said. The university’s Disciplinary Matters Advisory Review and Investigation Committee (DARIC) found the two female students guilty of “major misconduct”, and they were given a choice to either issue a public apology to the alleged perpetrator or pay a fine, she added.
The student facilitators decided not to apologise “as that may have had the effect of stifling the voices of any peers who wished to share their own stories of sexual harassment or violence at the hands of other students in NLSIU,” according to an open letter by nearly 200 alumni to the university administration. The two of them had to pay a fine of Rs 5,000, and were also removed from all positions of responsibility, including their positions as student facilitators under the university’s Sexual Harassment Inquiry Committee, the alumni said.
Instead of silencing their voices, universities should be encouraging survivors to access redressal mechanisms & providing them with all the support they need. We hope NLSIU reconsiders and reverses its decision. The full statement is here: https://t.co/cqipJEd9oc (n/n)— Mukta Joshi (@mukta_jo) June 22, 2022
The exact rationale behind penalising the two students is unclear, as they have been barred from sharing the details of the disciplinary committee order finding them guilty of “major misconduct”, according to alumni. “[We] are unable to even peruse the logic and reasoning of the committee. This means that the proceedings are shrouded in secrecy, and the principles of natural justice are not being followed, which is deeply unfair,” the open letter from alumni said. The alumni noted that the question of breach of confidentiality cannot arise, as there were no ongoing proceedings over the allegations under the Sexual Harassment Inquiry Committee, whose Code to Combat Sexual Harassment warrants confidentiality.
NLSIU’s website lists certain actions as major misconduct, which include: “Conduct that causes serious physical or emotional harm to any person, whether or not a member of the University community”, and “Conduct that seriously and materially harms the University. its goals. its work. its ethical standards or its leaning environment. (sic)”
Mukta, and the survivor herself, say that the student facilitators had even consulted with the Sexual Harassment Policy Advisor of the university’s Sexual Harassment Inquiry Committee, who did not raise any objections to narrating of the incident with fellow students. The survivor has said that before sharing her experience of harassment with the student community of NLSIU, the two students had consulted their Sexual Harassment Policy Advisor who left it to their discretion and didn't raise any objections. TNM has reached out to the Sexual Harassment Policy Advisor and the Registrar of the university, and story will be updated with their response if received.
Expressing solidarity with the penalised students, the open letter signed by scores of alumni said, “[We] commend the courageous and principled stance taken by the student facilitators. Further, we unequivocally condemn NLSIU’s finding that the student facilitators are guilty of “major misconduct”.”
The alumni also noted that as part of the MeToo movement, in 2018, many survivors of sexual harassment had shared their experiences over the same communication platforms – internal email groups and a private Facebook group – where the incident in the current instance was narrated. If NLSIU’s decision in the present case were to be applied evenly, the dozens of students, mostly women, who spoke up back in 2018 would also be found guilty of “major misconduct,” the alumni noted. “It bears emphasising once again that no student ought to be punished for speaking about sexual harassment and violence, as well as those who perpetrate it,” their statement said.
It further added, “It is well known that victims of sexual harassment (who are most often women) find it difficult to speak about their experiences, or take formal or legal action against the perpetrator. NLSIU ought not to perpetuate those difficulties or prevent survivors from sharing their experiences with the NLSIU community…a decision such as the current one will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on the voices of other survivors, present and future, and signal to them that NLSIU wishes for them to remain silent in the face of sexual and gender-based violence.”
The alumni have asked the university administration to make the disciplinary committee’s order public, reverse its finding that the two students are guilty of “major misconduct” and refrain from punishing and penalising survivors of sexual harassment and those who stand by them.
In a statement, NLSIU said that action was taken against the students as they circulated an anonymous statement on behalf of the complainant, detailing the alleged abuse, naming the accused student, and disclosing sensitive personal information. NLSIU said that the student facilitators are bound to maintain the confidentiality of the parties involved throughout the course of the complaint process, whether or not it results in formal proceedings before the University’s Sexual Harassment Inquiry Committee (SHIC).
The University added that there was no evidence of the complainant having been prevented from pursuing any internal or external inquiry processes with regards to the incident. “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 NLSIU said.
“The University takes matters of sexual harassment very seriously. NLSIU has never prevented its students from discussing issues of sexual harassment. However, to use NLSIU digital resources to publicly name someone in a matter that would be prejudicial to that person’s reputation is not conducive to the kind of community living that we would like to nurture at NLSIU,” the statement added.