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India: Statement by academics and activists against harassment of Prof Nivedita Menon by Jawaharlal Nehru University administration

23 August

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August 23, 2017

We, the undersigned women’s rights groups, activists and academics, are shocked to learn that the JNU administration has adopted a biased and mala fide procedure to institute an enquiry against Professor Nivedita Menon, eminent academic and well-known feminist who is Chairperson of the Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Thought at the School of International Studies, JNU. We are appalled to learn that Professor Bidyut Chakrabarti has been appointed as the head of the inquiry committee against Nivedita Menon, even though it has been brought to the notice of the administration that Prof. Menon in 2007 had deposed before the committee against Prof. Chakrabarti in an inquiry in a sexual harassment complaint at Delhi University. The appointment of Professor Chakrabarti (who is an external member of JNU’s Executive Council) as head of an enquiry committee against Professor Menon, who testified against him earlier, reeks of bias amounting to a breach of Professor Menon’s right to a fair and impartial inquiry.

It is shocking that members of JNU’s Academic Council first learnt about this inquiry committee constituted by the Executive Council in July 2017 only when members of the Academic Council received a letter inviting them to depose in front of the committee if they had anything to say about the “events leading to the disruption” of the 142nd Academic Council meeting held on 26 December 2016. The terms of reference of the said committee were not made public nor was it clear which service rules were invoked to constitute this committee.

After this general letter went out, Prof. Nivedita Menon received a letter from the Bidyut Chakrabarti Committee informing her that several AC members had deposed that she had disrupted the AC meeting. The letter to her also mentioned a video that the Committee was shown, which allegedly shows Prof Menon addressing students and teachers outside the Administrative Block.

No other faculty member has received a notice to appear before the Committee in this connection. Although Prof. Menon was served a notice to appear before the Committee, she was denied her right to be made aware of the specific ‘complaints’ that were central to this inquiry. Further, she was not given a chance to understand the nature of the depositions supposedly received from some AC members alleging that she disrupted the AC meeting, and how they formed prima facie adequate and sufficient grounds for instituting an inquiry against her, nor has she been informed about the provenance of the video referred to.

It is a matter of public record that a complaint of sexual harassment was filed against Bidyut Chakrabarti by a woman working in a subordinate capacity at the Gandhi Bhavan in the University of Delhi. Professor Menon, who was at the time teaching in the Department of Political Science in Delhi University, had testified against Bidyut Chakrabarti. As a result of the report submitted by the Apex Committee of Delhi University, the University of Delhi had debarred Bidyut Chakravarti from all administrative posts in the University for three years.

The JNU administration has exposed its own mala fide intentions by ignoring Prof. Menon’s repeated pleas to reconstitute the inquiry committee, given her legitimate apprehension of bias. Instead they have sent her repeated letters asking her to appear before the inquiry committee. We are deeply shocked that the JNU administration ignored the fact that the nomination of Prof. Chakrabarti as the chair of this inquiry against Prof. Menon is a violation of the principles of natural justice and the right to a fair procedure. Surely the JNU administration and its Executive Council should abide by the principles of a fair inquiry and ensure that such an enquiry should not be headed by someone who has grounds for bias.

This unethical and persistent harassment of an eminent scholar with an international reputation is yet another instance of the backlash being faced by feminists who stand up to sexism and sexual harassment in their professional spheres. It highlights the strategy adopted by people in positions of power, of trivialising sexual harassment and using their official positions to take revenge against women who have complained or testified against them.

We would like to stress that the very basis on which the JNU inquiry committee was formed is flawed and motivated and attacks the democratic and open functioning of a prestigious centre of higher education in India.
Further, we condemn the mala fide, motivated and baseless charges against Professor Nivedita Menon and the JNU administration’s attempts to target her and demand the immediate withdrawal of these charges and dissolution of the enquiry committee.

We further demand that Bidyut Chakravarti be debarred from any decision making on matters related to sexual harassment and/or GSCASH as an Executive Council member.

FACTS:

On 4 April 2007, a sexual harassment complaint was made by an employee of Gandhi Bhawan against the then Director, Prof Bidyut Chakrabarty, also faculty at the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi. The Delhi University apex committee on Sexual Harassment vide its report that was tabled and accepted by the Executive Council Resolution No 114 dated 8.10.07 resolved that:

1. A letter of warning be issued to Prof Bidyut Chakrabarty.

2. He should be asked to step down from the Directorship of Gandhi Bhawan.

3. He should be debarred from holding any administrative post in the University for a period of three years.

Subsequently, Prof Chakrabarty was removed from the position of Director, Gandhi Bhawan, Head of the Department of Political Science and Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences.

Prof Chakrabarty petitioned to the High Court, Delhi, not on the merits of the complaint but his right to cross-examine the witness (WPC No 8227/2007 dated 29.5.09). The Supreme Court in its order dated 12.1.10 for Special Leave to Appeal directed that cross examination for witnesses be carried out though the ‘witnesses need not be revealed’ and appointed Ms Binu Tamta, the Court Commissioner for the purpose of getting ‘answers to questions’ to be supplied by the respondent Prof Chakrabarty. The statements recorded by the Court Commissioner were heard on 7.5.10 and it was decided that the same be handed over to the Apex Committee for further action and closed the matter.

The Apex Committee considered the court recordings and submitted its report to the EC. The report was finally tabled in the EC on 21.3.12 and Resolution 235 accepted the findings of the committee. ‘The Council further resolved that Prof Bidyut Chakrabarty, be debarred from all the administrative posts and supervisory duties in the University for the remainder period out of the 3 years, if any.’ The Assistant Registrar (CR & Vigilance) wrote to the Head of the Department, Political Science vide letter no. CR-Vigilance/069/2006/17 dated 23.5.12 to implement the above EC resolution.

Prof. Chakravarti had petitioned the Delhi High Court also to quash the ‘ordinance XV-D of Delhi University on the ground that it is violative of Article(s) 14, 16 and 311 of the Constitution’ (Prof. Bidyug Chakraborty vs Delhi University & Ors., W.P.(C) No.8226/2007, 29 May 2009 at para 2). Justice Sikri and Justice Jain of the Delhi High Court held that since they had ‘read the requirements of complying with fundamental principles of natural justice as implicit in the inquiry procedure’, there was no need to ‘strike down the relevant provisions of Ordinance XV-D of the University of Delhi’ (Prof. Bidyug Chakraborty vs Delhi University & Ors., W.P.(C) No.8226/2007, 29 May 2009 at para 19).

ENDORSEMENTS

  • Abha Bhaiya, Jagori Rural, Himachal Pradesh
  • Prof A Mani, University of Calcutta
  • Achin Vanaik, Professor of Political Science Delhi University (retired), New Delhi
  • AIPWA (All India Progressive Women’s Association)
  • Dr Ajita Rao, Dalit feminist, New Delhi
  • Dr Albertina de JP Almeida, Advocate, Goa
  • Dr Alpana Neogy, Associate Professor of English (retd), Delhi University
  • Dr Amita Baviskar, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi
  • Amrapali Basumatary, Assistant Professor Kirorimal College, Delhi University.
  • Amrita, researcher, New Delhi
  • Dr Amrita Chhachi, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands
  • Amritananda Chakravorty, Advocate, New Delhi
  • Anand Pawar, Pune
  • Dr Anandhi S, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai
  • Anannya Bhattacharjee, Garment and Allied Workers’ Union, New Delhi
  • ANHAD, New Delhi
  • Dr Anish Vanaik, O.P. Jindal Global University
  • Prof Anita Ghai, School of Human Studies, Ambedkar University, New Delhi
  • Annie Raja, President, National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW)
  • Prof Anjali Monteiro, School of Media and Cultural Studies, TISS, Mumbai
  • Anjali Sinha, Stree Mukti Sangathan, Delhi
  • Dr Anupama Potluri, University of Hyderabad
  • Anuradha Kapoor, Swayam, Kolkata
  • Aruna Burte, feminist activist, Maharashtra
  • Arundathi Viswanath, theatre activist, Himachal Pradesh
  • Arundhati Dhuru, National Alliance of People’s Movements
  • Asha Achuthan, Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies, TISS
  • Audrey D’Mello, Majlis Legal Centre, Mumbai
  • Avishek Konar, Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat
  • Bindhulakshmi, Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies, TISS Mumbai
  • Prof Bittu Karthik Kondaiah, neurobiologist and activist, Ashoka University
  • Carole Vance, PhD MPH, Yale University
  • Carrie Shelver, South Africa
  • Prof Chaya Datar, feminist scholar, Mumbai
  • Dr Chayanika Shah, member gender Amity Committee TISS and Women Development Cell, Mumbai University
  • Debolina Dutta, Melbourne Law School
  • Dyuti Ailawadi, feminist activist, Delhi
  • Dr Geeta R, Department of Botany, Delhi University
  • G.Vijay Assistant Professor School of Economics University of Hyderabad
  • Prof Harjinder Singh, IIT Hyderabad
  • Farah Naqvi, writer and activist, New Delhi
  • Flavia Agnes, Majlis Legal Centre, Mumbai
  • Dr Gabriele Dietrich, Pennurimai Iyakkam, Madurai
  • Gayatri Nayar, TISS, Hyderabad
  • Gloria Careaga, National Autonomous University of Mexico.
  • Indira Chakravarthi, researcher, Pune
  • Ishita Chaudhry, Ashoka Fellow, New Delhi
  • Dr J Devika, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvanandapuram
  • Prof Janaki Abraham, Department of Sociology, Delhi University
  • Jasmine George, independent researcher, Bangalore
  • Jhuma Sen, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat
  • Juhi Jain, feminist activist, New Delhi
  • Kalyani Menon Sen, feminist activist, Gurgaon
  • Kamayani Bali Mahabal, feminist and human rights activist, Mumbai
  • Dr Karen Gabriel, Director Centre for Gender, Culture and Social Processes, Delhi University
  • Karuna Dietrich Wielenga, researcher, Chennai
  • Kavita Krishnan, Secretary AIPWA
  • Kiran Shaheen, memoirist and activist, New Delhi
  • Prof KP Jayashankar, Dean, School of Media and Cutural Studies, TISS, Mumbai
  • Lata Mani, independent scholar, Bangalore
  • Lavanya Suresh, BITS-Pilani, Hyderabad campus
  • Maimoona Mollah, President, Janwadi Mahila Samiti, Delhi
  • Manak Matiyani, YP Foundation, New Delhi
  • Dr Manisha Gupte, MASUM, Pune
  • Prof Manjari Katju, Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad
  • Mariam Dhawale, General Secretary, All India Democratic Women’s Association
  • Mathew Jacob, Human Rghts Defenders Alert-India
  • Meenakshi Puri, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh
  • Meera Shiva, Public Health activist, Diverse Women for Diversity
  • Dr Mohan Rao, rofessor, Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, School of Social Sciences, JNU
  • N Sarojini, SAMA, New Delhi
  • Dr Nandini Chandra, Asst Professor, Department of English, Delhi University
  • Nandini Manjrekar, Mumbai
  • Nandini Rao, feminist activist, New Delhi
  • Dr Nandita Shah, Akshara, Mumbai
  • Neetika Viswanath, Research Associate, Centre on the Death Penalty, NLU New Delhi
  • Neha Dixit, independent journalist, Delhi
  • Dr Nisha Biswas, scientist and activist, Kolkata
  • Niti Saxena, feminist activist, Lucknow
  • Niveditha Menon, researcher, Bangalore
  • Oishik Sircar, Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat
  • Ovais Sultan Khan, social activist, New Delhi
  • Padma Velaskar, sociologist, Mumbai
  • Prof Padmaja Shaw, School of Journalism, Osmania University, Hyderabad
  • Panchali Ray, Jadavpur University, Kokata
  • Pankaj Butalia, film-maker, New Delhi
  • Pamela Philipose, journalist, New Delhi
  • Pramada Menon, queer activist New Delhi
  • Priya Pillai, social and environmental activist, New Delhi
  • Prof Rachana Johri, Ambedkar University, Delhi
  • Prof Rajni Palriwala, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi
  • Prof Rosemary Dzuvichu, Nagaland University, Kohima
  • Rajni Tilak, Rahtriya Dalit Mahila Andolan, New Delhi
  • Rakhi Sehgal, trade unionist, New Delhi
  • Renu Khanna, Sahaj, Vadodara
  • Renu Singh, feminist activist and research scholar, Ambedkar University Delhi
  • Ridhima Mehra, Delhi
  • Rimple Mehta, School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
  • Rituparna Borah, queer feminist activist, New Delhi
  • Rochelle Pinto, independent researcher, Bangalore
  • Rohini Hensman, activist and writer, Mumbai
  • Rohini Sen, O.P. Jindal Global University
  • Dr Sadhna Arya, Delhi University
  • SAHELI Women’s Resource Centre, New Delhi
  • Durga Bhavani, Associate Professor, School of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Hyderabad
  • Sameena Dalwai, O.P. Jindal Global University
  • Sangeeta Chatterji, doctoral candidate, Rutgers University
  • Saptarshi Mandal, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat
  • Saumya Garima Jaipuriar, Kirorimal College, Delhi University
  • Seema baquer, Disability Rights professional, New Delhi
  • Shabnam Hashmi, social activist, New Delhi
  • Shahana Bhattacharya
  • Shalini Gera, Advocate, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh
  • Sharanya Nayak, farmer and development consultant, Koraput, Orissa
  • Sheba Chhachi, feminist artist, New Delhi
  • Sheetal Sharma, activist, Guwahati
  • Sherin BS. Assistant Professor, EFLU Hyderabad
  • Dr Shilpa Phadke, School of Media and Cultural Studies, TISS, Mumbai
  • Dr Shobha Rani, Associate Professor, University of Hyderabad
  • Shraddha Chigateri, feminist researcher, Bangalore
  • Shruti Arora, YP Foundation, New Delhi
  • Shubha Chacko, social activist, Bangalore
  • Soma KP, feminist researcher, New Delhi
  • Dr Soma Marik, Associate Professor of History, RKSM Vivekananda Vidyabhavan, Kolkata
  • Sonali Khan, feminist activist, New Delhi
  • Soumyajit Bhattacharya
  • Srimanjari
  • Subhash Gatade, human rights activist and writer, New Delhi
  • Prof Sujata Patel, President, Indian Sociological Society, University of Hyderabad
  • Sumi Krishna, former President, Indian Association for Women’s Studies, Bangalore
  • Suneeta Dhar, activist, New Delhi
  • Sunita VS Bandewar, independent senior research professional, Pune
  • Susie Tharu, feminist scholar, Hyderabad
  • Svati Joshi, former faculty, Delhi University, Ahmedabad
  • Prof Uma Chakravarti, feminist historian, New DelhiUrvashi Butalia, feminist writer, Zubaan, New Delhi
  • Usha Raman, media scholar and writer, Hyderabad
  • Vandana Mahajan, feminist activist, Bangalore
  • Vani Subramanian, Saheli
  • Prof Veena Das, Johns Hopkins University, USA
  • Veena Mani, doctoral candidate, IIT Madras
  • Dr Veena Shatrughna, Professor (retd) National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad
  • Dr Vimala Ramachandran, Educational Resource Unit, New Delhi
  • Vineeta Bal, scientist, IISER, Pune
  • Vinita Sahasranaman, feminist activist, New Delhi
  • Vinodhini Moses, National General Secretary, YWCA of India
  • Vrinda Marwah, doctoral candidate, University of Texas (Austin)
  • Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression, New Delhi