1,500 women students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) sought President Ram Nath Kovind’s intervention in the handling of cases of sexual harassment cases on their varsity campus.
Their anguish traces its roots in the handling of cases of sexual harassment in the last two years by the varsity administration, especially the case of professor Atul Johri, where the Internal Complaints Committee of JNU concluded that the professor is innocent as there isn’t sufficient evidence against him.
“The judgment given by ICC said that Atul Johri is innocent. It also said that there is a threat to his life from complainants and hence administration will provide him safety. Nothing can be more shameful than this in a campus like JNU. A professor accused of sexual harassment is given a security instead of complainants who should be given security so that they are not intimidated into taking their complaint back.”Swati Singh, student and councillor, JNUSU
The students, in their plea, have also asked the President to reinstate the Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH), citing that the committee was a democratic way to address sexual harassment on the campus.
The students signed a petition on Monday, 28 January – which decries the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) constituted by JNU’s Vice-Chancellor Jagadesh Mamidala – and sent it to President Ram Nath Kovind.
“VC’s ICC Shields Powerful, Influential”
Prescribed under The Jawaharlal Nehru University Act 1966 (53 of 1966) and the Statutes of the University, President of India serves as the Visitor of JNU. A copy of petition is with The Quint bearing 1,500 signatures.
The petition, an initiative by students from JNU’s Democratic Students’ Front (DSF), mentions that “GSCASH, which was constituted after a protracted struggle by the students, teachers and other sections of the JNU community, was illegally removed by the current VC of JNU, Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar in 2017.
A petition challenging JNU VC’s move is being heard in the Supreme Court. “In the interim period, the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) has acted in a regressive manner,” the petition to President reads.
"Our apprehension that the ICC, packed with members of the university administration, would shield the influential and the powerful has been confirmed through these developments,” the students have highlighted.
“We, the women students of JNU, have lost our faith in the ICC. The verdicts have resulted in an environment of fear preventing students like us from approaching the ICC. Hence there is an immediate need for a functional institutional mechanism wherein, we can lodge complaints without fear of punitive actions against the complainants themselves.”
Why Johri’s Case Sparked Plea to President
In their submission to President Kovind, the students have cited two instances from the past, including the case of sexual harassment by professor Atul Johri, who was given a clean chit by the university’s ICC.
Johri was accused of sexual harassment by eight students on campus in March last year.
The ICC - headed by professor Vibha Tandon - further noted that the accused professor did not pose any threat to the eight students who complained but was instead facing threats from the women and their families. Citing this incident, the students have told President Kovind that VC’s ICC has violated principles of natural justice and the existing POSH Act, 2013.
“As the autonomy, accessibility and safety of the women students particularly are being put under threat by the ICC, headed by Prof Vibha Tandon, we hope the matter is looked at most urgently and with utmost seriousness,” the petition reads.