The Kerala High Court has issued notice to the authorities of SN College, Chempazhanthy, in Thiruvananthapuram, in a petition that alleges a biased and botched investigation into the complaints of sexual harassment levelled by a few female students against a male teacher.
In its order on December 4, the court also temporarily stayed the report of the Internal Committee which the college authorities constituted to investigate the complaints by the students, as far as it pertains to the petitioner.
The petitioner is Swapna Gopinath, a former faculty of the college. It was in an online gender sensitiation session conducted by Swapna Gopinath in July this year that the students came to know about the Internal Committee which needs to be constituted under The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2013). The session was conducted on an online forum 'Veyilpookkal', launched by Manu Remakant, the then Head of Department of English in the college.
However, the findings of the IC, as per the petition, observed that Swapna was still "monitoring the students of the college and having an undesirable role." The petition, filed by counsels Raghul Sudheesh, Glaxon, Lakshmi J and Xavier Thomas, cites the IC findings to support its argument that the investigation is biased: "The ICC (the IC) noted the undesirable role played by former faculties of the college Arya and Dr Swapna Gopinath. We wonder how the old faculties of this college can still monitor the students. Executive Authority of the Higher Education Institution (HEI) may file an official complaint to the appropriate authorities to restrict this kind of activities (sic)."
The petition noted that "such observations are a blatant violation of the administrative law that none should be condemned unheard." It further added, "No doubt so far no notice has been received but observations are required to be expunged or declared obiter. Many other sitting faculty members have already been served with the notices."
In its order, the court directed that the case be clubbed with the pending writ petitions filed by various students and other related writ petitions.
The respondents are the principal of the college, the manager of the college, the Internal Committee represented by its presiding officer and the University Grants Commission (UGC) represented by its secretary.
In August this year, six female students had complained to the principal against T Abhilash, an assistant professor of the Political Science Department, for allegedly sending them sexual innuendos and inappropriate messages on Whataspp, sometimes during odd hours too. The principal, Dr Anil Kumar, is allegedly close to the professor, as are most of the other faculty members. However, a few faculty members supported the students. The students met with Governor Ariff Mohammed Khan in August after the authorities allegedly turned a deaf ear to their complaints.
Though an IC had been constituted as the students stood firm on their complaint despite being subjected to slut-shaming, it's alleged that the findings in the report show the students in a bad light. One of the students, who is a witness, had told TNM that in the 15-page report that the IC has prepared, it is mentioned that the professor is a good person and that the complaint is malicious, with the evidence being fabricated. In October, 11 students, including the witnesses, were issued a show cause notice for lodging a 'frivolous' complaint and were asked not to enter the college for 30 days.
The college authorities in November also took action against five teachers who have been supportive of the students. While four, including Manu Remakant, were transferred, two were suspended. On the contrary, no action has been taken against Abhilash so far.