The Delhi High Court on Wednesday, 25 April, directed the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to treat the representations of women students as complaints and initiate a probe against its professor on charges of sexual harassment, while questioning the varsity for not taking any steps in the matter.
The court also sought the response of the varsity on the petition by the women students seeking suspension of the professor, Atul Kumar Johri, and to restrain him from entering the campus. The plea has sought that a safe working environment be provided to the students there.
Justice Rajiv Shakdher also issued notice to the professor on the plea which alleged that despite making various representations to the varsity, it has not taken any action against Johri.
Can’t you (JNU) advise him to stay outside the campus till the enquiry is completed?... Can’t you treat the representations as complaints? The core issue is that the students should feel safe in the campus. I am not saying you completely trash the professor. Take his defence, give him a preliminary hearing. Do something, you can’t expose your students like this.Justice Rajiv Shakdher
The court directed the university to treat the representations of the women students as complaints for initiating action against Johri and also asked the Delhi Police to show the statements of students recorded before a magistrate to the JNU vice-chancellor (VC) so that he can initiate preliminary enquiry against the professor.
On being asked about the steps taken by the university, its counsel said the students have not made any complaint before the varsity or the Internal Complaints Committee due to which it cannot take any action.
JNU’s counsel Ginni Rautray said how could the university take any action when there was no complaint before it. The students have directly approached the police for lodging of FIR, so the law will take its own course, she said.
However, advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for the women students, said they have given several representations to the university and by lodging an FIR with the police, the victims have taken upon themselves the task of discharging the higher burden of proof.
She said it is a case where eight FIRs of sexual offences have been lodged against the professor based on the complaints of eight women students. The issue is of grave nature and the university should provide a safe environment to the students, Grover said.
She said the professor continued to visit the Department of Life Sciences and has access to all documents. The affected students and scholars are directly working under him and they do not feel safe, she added.
The professor was arrested in March and granted bail by the court, but the authorities had not taken any action against him, the complainants stated.
On the submission of JNU's counsel that the university cannot take action unless a complaint is made to them, the judge said:
Are you saying that the vice-chancellor has no power to restrain a professor on the basis of an FIR?... Don’t give up on your power. You are trying to tell me that the vice-chancellor has no power.Judge
The varsity's counsel said if such a precendent is set, then anybody can come and say an FIR has been lodged against a professor and he should be suspended.
The counsel said she will facilitate the vice-chancellor in taking a decision if the police allows him to peruse the statements of the students.
Advocate Satyakam, appearing for the Delhi police, said the statements of students were recorded before the magistrate and they have so many details.
The court asked the police to file a status report in the matter and listed the case for hearing on 2 May.
Students, professors and women rights organisations have been demanding Johri’s arrest, after several students had accused him of sexual harassment.
Johri had claimed before the trial court in his bail plea that in compliance with certain UGC guidelines regarding compulsory attendance and leave pattern, he had sent an e-mail on 27 February to certain students, including a complainant student, warning them against their irregular attendance pattern.
He had said the allegations levelled by the woman pertained to 2013-14 but the FIR was registered in 2018.
He had said the FIR was a counterblast to falsely implicate him. Before receiving the e-mail pertaining to her attendance, the complainant had cordial relations with him and his wife, and she had even celebrated birthdays and festivals with them, he had claimed.
(The Quint is now on WhatsApp. To receive handpicked stories on topics you care about, subscribe to our WhatsApp services. Just go to TheQuint.com/WhatsApp and hit Send.)