Dismisses Fake Complaints By Two Students

Hyderabad:

Symbiosis law school professor suspended over alleged sexual misconduct

Days after allegations of sexual harassment were levelled against an assistant professor by a group of students, the Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad on Sunday said it has suspended Srinivas Methuku, the faculty member. After receiving the complaint, the institute constituted an internal complaints committee as per the University Grants Commission’s guidelines.

“The ICC interacted with the victims who claimed that they felt uncomfortable by his actions. As an interim action, we suspended the assistant professor on October 15, 2018,” said Vidya Yeravdekar, principal director of Symbiosis International (Deemed University), which established the law school in Hyderabad in 2014.

Repeated calls made to the assistant professor went unanswered. After TOIsent a text message to Methuku, the university’s spokesperson Vidya Yeravdekar called to say that the faculty member won’t comment until the conclusion of the ICC probe.

The institute also claims that two students have misrepresented facts in the sexual harassment case to divert attention. The two students alleged that they were evicted by the administration from the hostel and the institute on October 26 for raising their voice against sexual misconduct by the assistant professor. However, officials claim that action was taken against them following disciplinary misconduct.

“The two students are neither victims nor witnesses in the sexual harassment case. They were involved in repeated disciplinary violations over the last two-years. Due to less attendance, they were listed in the ‘term not granted/course not granted’ list on October 22 which triggered their anger. If they were indeed bothered about the sexual harassment case, they could have raised their voice much before the action was taken by the institute against the assistant professor,” said Yeravdekar, adding that the students incorrectly linked their disciplinary action with the #MeToo movement.

She further added that the institute has also received a petition from fellow students seeking removal of the two students as they were causing tension within the campus during exam period. According to a statement issued by the institute on Sunday, the two students were involved in misbehavior with campus administrator, staff and security guards. Despite conveying several disciplinary committee meetings, the institute claims that the students failed to represent themselves.

MeToo campaign by two students to divert attention’: Symbiosis Law School

SLS has justified its decision to throw out two girls from the hostel, but the students ask why the institute has still not addressed allegations of sexual harassment against one of its professors.
Image: Official SLS website

A day after a student of Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad, approached the police alleging an attempt to intimidate her into removing her Facebook post against a professor, who is accused of sexual harassment, the institute issued a detailed response.

Apoorva and Snigdha, two students from the institution, were evicted from their hostel on Friday with immediate effect. The students alleged that they were targeted after they ‘outed’ a professor and that the institution was indifferent when it came to handling sexual harassment accusations.

The institute however says that the disciplinary action they took was only on the basis of ‘continuous misconduct’.

“This is to state that the interim action taken against Snigdha Jayakrishnan and Apoorva Y K is solely on the basis of continuous Disciplinary Misconduct by these students. The students were given counseling, warning and opportunities several times for their improvement in the past,” the college said in its response.

In turn, it alleged that the “whole #Metoo Campaign was orchestrated to divert the attention from the core issue of disciplinary misconduct by these two students and to derive benefit of exemption from attendance shortage.”

The institute said that the disciplinary action was initiated because of a number of reasons including “Misbehaviour with campus administrator and manhandling of staff and security personnel.”

“The students misbehaved with the campus administrator by hurling abuses and indulged in gross disobedience of campus discipline. The students in question also resorted to manhandling the society staff and security personnel on duty on April 26, 2018. The Campus Disciplinary Committee (CDC) inquired into the matter and summoned (by official email) the students to appear in front of CDC along with their parents to present their version on May 4, 2018. However, the students have chosen not to appear citing some reasons. Subsequently the CDC extended the dates further till June 11, 2018. When the students and their parents failed to appear and record their statement, the members of the CDC have recommended stern action against both the students.”

The instance of disobedience cited by the institute incidentally came days after the two students approached authorities over alleged misconduct by a professor.

On April 1, the students wrote to the Minister of Women and Child Development (WCD) and Ministry of Human Rights Development alleging the institution poorly dealt with cases of sexual harassment, citing one case where the institute’s director responded dismissively about a complaint against Assistant Professor Srinivas Methuku, who is under investigation by the institute’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC).

In the latest press statement, the institute did not address the allegations of sexual harassment against the professor and also did not mention the letter written by the students on April 1 to various authorities.

The institute also claimed that the students misbehaved with the warden of the girls hostel and used ‘abusive language’ against the Campus Administrator. They also said that they left the campus premises without availing necessary permission from the concerned authorities.

“Along with the above mentioned disciplinary issues, complaints were also received from other students that these two students created nuisance in the girls hostel…on several occasions both the students have engaged in posting malicious content against the institution and its faculty members and staff on social media with false allegations instead of approaching the relevant forms at the institute level and at the university level for redressal of any of their grievances, which is a clear violation of code of conduct,” the institute claimed.

The institute also said that the academic performance of students was continuously deteriorating and revealed their CGPA in the first and fifth semester of their course. They also claimed that the two women had poor attendance.

Students respond

Responding to the press release, the two students in a joint statement, said that the issues raised by them about procedural flaws and mistreatment of victims of sexual harassment weren’t addressed by the institute.

About the disciplinary action initiated against them, the students said, “After our 6th semester got over in April, in order to leave the college we had to get an outpass signed by the warden and the campus administrator. Our parents are supposed to send mails for these out passes to be issued. When we went to get an outpass, they refused to give us one, saying that the mail IDs that were used to send the mail were not that of our parents. I, Apoorva, had booked a bus ticket to leave that day, so I tried to walk out of the campus without an out pass. The guards surrounded and physically restrained me locking the gate from inside. Though I called the Women Helpline, help didn’t arrive on time and I was completely unnerved by the manhandling meted out on me. I grew anxious and threw the iron latch away and walked out of the campus. On the other hand, Snigdha was given an outpass the next day based on the same mail.”

“We were never given complaint letter stating what act of ours amounted to violation. To this day, we neither know what are the particular charges, if at all the committee came to conclusion about the matter we were never informed. Neither were we called to attend any proceedings in this semester nor served any warning notice thereof with regard to any disciplinary matter,” the students said.

The students also said that no suspension or rustication letters were given to them, adding that they were still unaware of the details of the disciplinary committee action that is said to have been taken against them.

Speaking to TNM on Saturday, Apoorva had also alleged, “After raising complaints of sexual harassment, the authorities spread the rumour that I was mentally ill. The university also doesn’t encourage students to question the panelists when they come for talks. They brand you as arrogant and disobedient.”

The issue

After the students wrote to the WCD on April 1, the institute in its response to the WCD on May 3 said that they had ‘severely reprimanded’ the accused professor, but claimed that the student’s allegation against Srinivas of making sexually coloured remarks was misconstrued.

Slamming this investigation, Apoorva had written a Facebook post against the institution on October 10 by attaching an Instagram screenshot, where a survivor anonymously accused Srinivas of staring at her breasts and causing discomfort, which had triggered off a row and led to the eviction of the two students.

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