Male officer, part of a committee without teeth, authorised by Governor named in tape. The response to this case raises more questions than answers, say activists.

TN sex-for-cash university scandal Why a one man committee fails students
news Crime Wednesday, April 18, 2018 - 19:23

“FALSEHOOD!” cried Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit, every time a question was asked on Tuesday about his being named in the controversial sex-for-cash audio tape that has rocked Tamil Nadu. The audio of a college professor, Nirmala Devi, trying to lure four of her students into performing sexual favours for ‘high officials’ in the Madurai Kamaraj University in return for money and other favours, has once again put the focus on harassment and sexual misconduct in academic spaces in India. However, the response to the scandal – namely, the forming of a one-man committee by the Governor himself to probe the issue – has raised more questions than answers in the state.

In the tape, Nirmala Devi alludes to “knowing” the Governor very well – a claim that Banwarilal Purohit denied and dismissed repeatedly during his controversial press conference. But even before he called for the press meet, the Governor had on Monday instituted an inquiry committee to probe the matter. The committee is made up of one man – retired IAS officer Santhanam – and the Governor claims, that as Chancellor of the Madurai Kamaraj University, he has the sole authority to form the committee in this case.

However, the fact that the one-man committee has, by the very definition, zero women, has not escaped anyone’s attention. Further, the fact that he has been mentioned in the controversial conversation has further sparked debate on whether he can be allowed to form the committee in the first place.

Why no women to probe scandal?

"What is this committee formed by the Governor? What Act does it fall under?" asks lawyer and human rights activist Sudha Ramalingam.

"We do not even know under what law this committee has been constituted. If it is under the Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, the presiding officer should be a woman. That is not the case here,” Sudha points out.

“This committee has been constituted as an eyewash. Most of these inquiry committees are to ensure public is silent and memory is short," she alleges.

"The Governor has also been named in this case and by appointing a one man committee is browbeating these allegations," says A Saravanan, a lawyer and a spokesperson of the DMK.

There are many reasons why, in principle, there should be a woman heading the probe in the case. "Both the main accused and students are women and so it only makes sense to have a woman handle the case. It will be difficult for them to open up completely to a man," Saravanan says.

But when asked why the committee put in place by him to probe the sensitive case did not have any women, the Governor on Tuesday had a seemingly clueless answer: "He can take help if necessary," was the Governor's reply.

Why no terms of reference?

Even if Santhanam decides to ‘take help’ from women, the next criticism of the committee is that it doesn’t have any teeth. The Governor failed to provide a terms of reference for the committee that he has ordered – a fact that the opposition has not failed to notice.

"How can there be a committee without a terms of reference?" asks Saravanan, adding that without such terms, the committee will not have any power to take action against those found guilty.



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