Believe it or not!

Last August, Gujarat University was left shaken when three female lecturers complained of receiving an obscene letter from a professor. However, according to the University Grants Commission‘s annual report for 2014-15, no such case has taken place at GU. In fact, if one goes by UGC’s annual report for the past three years, no case of sexual harassment has been reported from GU. This, even though the chairman of Internal Complaint Committee disclosed that four such cases have been registered with GU in the past four years.

We have not received any information from Gujarat University, said a reliable source at UGC. “UGC had asked all universities to submit annual data on sexual harassment cases that took place under their jurisdiction by January 2015. From Gujarat, we received information regarding one case from Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology, Surat.”

Meanwhile, the annual reports of UGC for 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013- 14 also claim that no cases of sexual harassment has been reported from GU. UGC also received only one complaint from universities across India in year 2010-2011 which is less than the number of cases that came to WDC’s notice (see box). Under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, officials are required to inform of any sexual harassment case that taken place on campus to the university’s internal complaint committee. Then, the university reports all these cases to UGC.

The UGC had asked all universities to establish Women Development Committee (WDC) in 2010. Following changes in law, the varsities were asked to set up an internal complaint committee specifically to handle sexual harassment and gender discrimination cases.

On Wednesday, Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani informed the Lok Sabha about the annual return received by UGC about the cases of sexual harassment against women lecturers, professors and research scholars between April 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015. On the basis of responses from 84 universities, it showed that there has been 75 such cases, she added. Surprisingly, no case was reported from Gujarat University. Aformer WDC member at the university, seeking anonymity, said, “UGC sent a notification to all universities seeking data of sexual harassment cases in January.

Last August, Professor Saraman Zala was accused of sending obscene letters to three of his female colleages. Yet, GU does not seem to have reported the sexual harassment case to UGC if one goes by the annual report. I know of four cases that had been reported to GU in the past four years, yet UGC’s annual report does not mention them. Maybe GU is conducting a cover-up and not reporting these incidents.” The member added, “The point of compiling the data is to keep an eye out for such cases and learn how best to facilitate and support the victims. It helps assess best practices and helps in improving existing mechanisms of redressal.”

Chairman of Internal Complaint committee (GU) Rajashri Bhatt said, “The WDC was split to form ICC in September 2014. We registered the Zala case and sent the data to UGC too. The vice-chancellor intervened in the case and the professor was dismissed. So, it is not possible that the UGC report does not reflect this case.” She added, “Four such cases have been registered in the past four years. We organise seminars, awareness campaigns in the university. So, a number of sexual harassment cases has come down.” Though Bhatt claims to have sent these reports, UGC claims not to have received it. On July 23, UGC again issued a notification in universities asking to send Annual Return report of sexual harassment cases registered last year. When contacted, Vice-Chancellor MN Patel told Mirror, “It is not possible that the cases have not been reported to UGC. I will look into the matter and question the authority, who looks after this matter, to check why the data has not been updated at UGC.”

In a letter addressed to vice chancellors of universities, UGC secretary Jaspal S Sandhu wrote, “You are requested to send the annual return on cases of sexual harassment as per proforma for the period from April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015 and also details of constitution of ICC to the UGC on email latest by August 7 so as to enable UGC to compile and furnish the information to the government. This may also be brought to the notice of the affiliated colleges.” The letter stated that the UGC had earlier sent an advisory enumerating various measures to prevent sexual harassment, followed by a letter dated June 15, 2015 for forwarding annual returns on cases of sexual harassment.

The UGC had asked universities and colleges to constitute ICC for sexual harassment cases at workplace (prevention, prohibition and redressal) and hold regular meetings of the ICC and also ensure adequate publicity about it by displaying posters in prominent places, their contact details and the procedure for filing the complaint with the ICC.

On July 23, HRD Minister Smriti Irani revealed that as per responses from 84 universities, 75 cases of sexual harassment of women lecturers, professors and research scholars by academic heads were reported. While Delhi reported 27 cases, Uttar Pradesh reported 23 cases. It was followed by Haryana (7) and Odisha (6). States like Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Tripura reported two cases each, whereas Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Kerala, Karnataka and Assam reported one case each.

» 2010Two female lecturers of N C Bodiwala College filed two separate complaints accused three colleagues of making lewd comments and sexually harassing them. They also accused the vice-principal of helping them by not taking any action against the trio.
» 2010Sunanda Shastri, a professor in the Sanskrit department, had lodged a complaint against the then head of the department Vasant Bhatt and prof Kamlesh Chokshi for verbally abusing her. Bhatt was relieved of his charge as HOD while Chokshi got off easy by writing an apology letter.
» 2011At New L J College, a female student complained against a lecturer who verbally abused her. She had to make a hue and cry before any action was taken against the lecturer.
» 2014A visiting faculty member of HK Arts College alleged that Ganpat Desai, a faculty member, sexually harassed her and outraged her modesty.
» 2015Two students of Asia Pacific Institute of Hotel Management in Usmanpura had accused a teacher of touching them inappropriately, harassing them and putting pressure on them for sexual favour. The professor was later suspended.