A law student who has completed his course at the Tamil Nadu National Law University, Trichy, has been found guilty of sexual harassment by the Interal Committee (IC) of the University. The IC concluded that he was guilty in three out of four complaints filed against him, and have recommended five months of community service – and until this is completed, his degree will be withheld. The complainants however are unhappy with the punishment, and have demanded that his conduct certificate from the university should mention his offences.
In May 2019, four women students from Tamil Nadu National Law University (TNNLU) had filed complaints of sexual harassment against the final year law student. During a farewell party organised inside the campus in May this year, he asked a student to kiss him, and when she refused, he resorted to stalking her for the rest of the party.
When talk of this incident got out, another student who was sexually harassed by the accused came forward. The accused had sexually harassed her in the university campus, in November 2018, the complainant told the IC.
The third complaint on which he was found guilty is of sexual harassment over a period of three years.
The Internal Committee conducted the inquiry with witnesses, friends and the accused between May 20, 2019 and August 10, 2019 and released their report on August 26. “The respondent shall be directed to undergo community service for a period of not less than five months,” the IC report said. It also recommended that the university withhold the results of the End semester examination 2019 of the accused until he submits valid proof of completion of community service, and that any awards or recognition which were supposed to be conferred to him be reconsidered.
However, the complainants are disappointed with the punishment, and have now decided to appeal to the VC to ensure that his actions are reflected in his conduct certificate.
Speaking to TNM, a source close to one of the complainants said, “In IPC under section 354A [Sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment], the punishment is minimum one year of imprisonment to three years of imprisonment. This guy who has been found guilty of sexually harassing three women, has been recommended a punishment of five months of community service. Does this really reflect the gravity of the offences he has committed?”
“It is not the ICC's job or our job to worry about his future or his job. It is his responsibility to consider the repercussions of his actions on his future and his work,” the source said.
However, the IC of the university has justified their recommendations. Speaking to TNM, an IC member who was a part of the proceedings said that this was the only option remaining in the guidelines, which were applicable to him.
“Since he was a final year student and had already appeared for his final exams, dismissal or transfer or barring him from exams were not options for us. Hence, we recommended that he undertake community service for five months,” the member said, adding that the IC has also recommended to the university to mention the fact of the IC proceedings in his conduct certificate when he comes back after the community service to collect his degree certificate. But these facts have not been mentioned in the IC order, a copy of which is in TNM’s possession.
The member also added that a firm that had offered a job to the accused has rescinded its offer due to the IC proceedings.
While the complainants have now decided to appeal to higher authorities in the university, students are wary about whether this will yield results.
Swarna Rajagopalan, the Founder and Director of Prajnya Trust and an advisor at Gender at Work India explained that beyond specifying recommendations, the IC is not empowered to do more. “IC is empowered to hear the case and make its recommendations based on the range of punishment specified in the anti-sexual harassment policy of the institution. It cannot force the institution to implement its recommendations,” she said, adding that if either of the parties in the case choose to approach a court of law over the IC’s recommendations, then the report will be taken as a valid evidence.
Amba Salelkar, a Chennai-based lawyer working on gender, disability, and mental health inclusion told TNM that ICs in such cases can include counselling sessions and community service. “Under section 10 of University Grants Commission (Prevention, prohibition and redressal of sexual harassment of women employees and students in higher educational institutions) Regulations, 2015, the institution can award reformative punishments like mandatory counselling and, or, performance of community service,” she said. She also pointed out that community service and counselling are just two examples provided in the guidelines and the IC can also recommend other reformative punishments to the offender.
She also added that the aggrieved person is entitled to compensation for any loss including mental trauma, loss of career opportunities and medical expenses incurred by the victim for physical and psychiatric treatment. “The HEI shall issue direction for the payment of the compensation recommended by the IC and accepted by the Executive Authority, which shall be recovered from the offender,” read the guidelines.
TNM has reached out to the Vice Chancellor of the university for her comments on the matter. The story will be updated once she responds.