History of Dyal Singh College Case
The University community has been seized of the issue in Dyal Singh College (M) wherein a lady teacher has complained that a male colleague used foul and sexually abusive language towards her. This matter culminated in the recommendation of the termination of the male teacher’s services by the College Governing Body on 2nd May 2006. The entire case needs to be viewed against the backdrop of the history of sexual harassment in the University and struggle against it which culminated in the enactment of the Ordinance XV-D on sexual harassment.
The University of Delhi has had a long history of sexual harassment. Each case that has surfaced in the University during the past two decades shows how deeply entrenched sexual harassment is and how difficult it is to fight it and take each case to its logical conclusion. The University witnessed a series of suicides by female research scholars in the 1980s in a science department. A huge agitation in and outside the campus forced the authorities to set up an inquiry. The inquiry found the Professor guilty of sexual harassment which had led to serial suicides. A combined committee of the Executive Council and Academic Council was formed to recommend the course of action in the case, but the Professor virtually escaped punishment; he acquired an exclusive laboratory in the South Campus. It took Sushma Merh of the Department of Adult Continuing Education eight years just to be heard. The Justice Wad Committee was set up only when the Vice-Chancellor was confronted with an issue of the magazine Manushi at an international feminist conference abroad. This contained details of Sushma Merh’s harassment. The inquiry revealed that not only Sushma Merh but nearly twenty other women had been subjected to sexual harassment by S.C. Bhatia, the Head of the Department. In this instance, too, the culprit continued to be in his position with demotion for a long time. In the specific instance of Beena Rani, a safai karamchari in Hindu College, the college authorities whitewashed the whole issue. It was only through a struggle by a tiny but determined section of the students, teachers and karamcharis of the University that the university saw the first inquiry committee being set up according to the Supreme Court guidelines in the Vishakha case. In this instance it was the intervention of the National Commission of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes that led to the constitution of this committee. Here the committee left its task unfinished; it did not consider a crucial piece of evidence saying that it was not in their purview to get someone’s signatures authenticated. The NGO representative on the committee was not from one having tackled such cases and it substantially represented the interests of the authorities. By this time lots of spurious NGOs had come into existence to find place in the committees on sexual harassment established according to the Supreme Court guidelines. In another instance at Hindu College, a female teacher was abused and chased by a male colleague in the staff-room in the presence of a large number of her colleagues including some feminist activists. The Staff Association and authorities of the college did nothing in the case. In a case of sexual harassment of a librarian in Ramjas College, the inquiry remained incomplete because the complainant withdrew the case under family pressure.
In each one of these cases the authorities attempted to stop the case from being raised. If by the sheer tenacity of the victim, the issue got raised, the inquiry committees invariably did not do their job properly. If in rare instances, such as the Wad Committee in Sushma Merh case the committee did its job properly, the decision-making processes to decide on the punishment of the guilty often faltered. In each case social pressures, including family pressures, were exerted on the victim to withdraw the case.
While all these cases got raised with the support of a small democratic section in and outside the University, the fate of all these cases underlined the need for structural remedies on the issue. A section of teachers, students and karamcharis felt the need of organised intervention in the issue – Goonda Virodhi Abhiyan (1987-88) was the first such intervention in this issue. It was followed by the Gender Study Group which did a survey on the issue and came to the conclusion that ninety percent of the female students felt harassed in the University. The S.C. Bhatia case led to the formation of Swabhiman (1994) which not only struggled on the specific issue but also raised the demand for the implementations of the Wad Committee recommendations on sexual harassment. With the passage of time the Gender Study Group transformed itself into the Forum Against Sexual Harassment (FASH) which then became a much bigger forum. In the meantime came the Supreme Court judgement in the Vishakha case (1997) which gave momentum to the struggle for structural safeguards and remedies on the issue of sexual harassment in the University. It was in this context that the FASH continued to exert pressure on the university authorities to enact a law which finally culminated in the making of the Ordinance XV-D on sexual harassment in the University of Delhi.
We look at the case of Dyal Singh College against the backdrop of deeply entrenched patriarchy and consequent sexual harassment in the University and the concurrent struggle of a small democratic section to structurally address the issue which finally led to the making of Ordinance XV-D. In this case the authorities acted promptly in setting up the inquiry committee. The inquiry committee acted wisely in not dropping the case when the female teacher, under pressure from the Staff Association, agreed to a compromise. It is remarkable that the woman teacher has had the courage of conviction and has stood up for a larger cause through her specific case. However, in this case, too, procedural flaws and the multiple violations of laws of natural justice and rules governing the service conditions of the college appointed teachers have put the case on a very shaky foundation. In the long history of such cases, justice may yet again elude the victim.
Regarding the procedural and other legal violations in the case, the inquiry committee was neither constituted by, nor ratified by the Governing Body, nor was it formed under Ordinance XV(D), the ordinance which deals with sexual harassment. The college maintains that this was not done since the College Complaint Committee (CCC) had not been constituted by then. It is a serious matter that the college had not constituted the CCC which should have been done by the end of August. However the College maintains that it consulted the Apex Committee on how to proceed in the matter in the absence of a fully formed CCC. The Apex Committee refused to intervene. Thereupon the Chairman of the Governing Body authorised the Principal to set up an enquiry committee. However, the committee did not follow the procedure it laid down for itself in its first meeting. Contrary to its own decision, Mr. R.K. Sinha was not given a copy of the complainant’s statement for submitting his reply thereto, although he was called several times to appear before the committee. The prime witness was not called by the inquiry committee. The most serious violation of norms in the entire procedure is the manner in which the Governing Body finally took up the case on 2nd May 2006.
1. The inquiry committee report was not listed on the agenda. Yet the decision to recommend the termination of a teacher’s services was taken on the basis of this report.
2. The intervention of the women’s groups – the CPI M led organisation All India Democratic Women’s Association, the All India Progressive Women’s Association (CPI ML -Liberation) and the Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan (New Democracy CPI ML) forced the Governing Body to take up the inquiry committee report. The inquiry committee report thus got taken up without its being on the agenda.
3. The Governing Body did not seriously apply its mind on the course of action to be taken nor did it issue a show cause notice to R.K. Sinha after the inquiry committee report was adopted as to why action should not be taken against him.
This summary recommendation of termination of a teacher’s services added an altogether new dimension to the initial case of sexual harassment and it poses a serious threat to the service conditions of each and every teacher, including women teachers. It may be remembered that we do not have statutory security of service and that the Governing Body is empowered to summarily terminate the services of a teacher for misconduct after giving three months’ notice in writing or payment of three months’ salary in lieu of notice. Thus besides the initial issue of sexual harassment, this became a major issue for the Delhi University Teachers’ Association as it would adversely impact upon the service conditions of all teachers. Even under Ordinance XV(D), of the eleven penalties explicitly listed ‘dismissal’ is the last under clause 4A. Further, it is clearly stated in Redressal clause 4 that for any disciplinary action, specifically termination, the relevant service rules of the University must be followed.
The relevant rules are in Ordinance XII, Clause 6 of the Form of Agreement of Service for College Teachers:
The Governing Body shall not determine the engagement of a teacher whether summarily or otherwise, without informing him in writing of the grounds on which they propose to take action and giving him a reasonable opportunity of stating his case in writing and before coming to final decision shall duly consider the teacher’s statement, and if he so deserves, give him a personal hearing’. This provision was totally flouted. This effectively means that safeguards against the arbitrary termination of teachers’ services in the absence of any statutory security of service are seriously undermined. Any worsening of service conditions and more arbitrary powers for the governing bodies make women teachers more vulnerable to sexual harassment at the workplace in the long run since it leads to far greater control over women through insecure service conditions as was witnessed in the S.C. Bhatia case in a concentrated manner. It is our experience that because of different service conditions women in the non-teaching staff are subject to far greater sexual harassment in the university than the female teachers.
To the very serious issue of sexual harassment was thus added the overriding issue of the jeopardising of the service conditions of teachers including particularly the women teachers.
The Delhi University Teachers’ Association Executive Committee meeting requisitioned on this issue was held in this context on 4th May 2006. At this meeting the entire matter was hotly debated.
At the meeting the BJP and Congress speakers concentrated almost exclusively on the alleged financial improprieties committed by the authorities in Dyal Singh College, which in their view prompted the action taken by the Governing Body against R.K. Sinha. They discounted the issue of sexual harassment of a lady teacher by R.K. Sinha on the grounds that the whole matter had been amicably resolved by the intervention of the Staff Association. Some even claimed that the charges were concocted. They emphasised the lack of due process in the entire issue. They also pointed out the disproportion between the charges levelled against R.K. Sinha and the punishment awarded to him. They referred to the exceptionally high fees paid to the architect engaged by the college.
The CPM-led Democratic Teachers’ Front (DTF) presented a divided opinion. While all DTF speakers condemned the harassment of a woman teacher by R.K. Sinha, they did not agree among themselves on the severity of the violations of the Delhi University ordinances. Rajiv Ray pointed out the multiplicity of irregularities followed by the college in the case and averred that a ‘sham enquiry’ had been carried out to investigate the charge of sexual harassment. He stated that the trade union cannot decide whether the complaint of the lady colleague was true or not. He was of the opinion that the inquiry was mala fide as the proper Ordinance XV (D) was not used and that it was not right to use Ordinance XII; the committee was not formed under XV (D). He maintained that the DUTA should not be a party to the action against R.K. Sinha, but it should not be said that the complainant had made false allegations; proper procedures were not followed and sham justice was dispensed. Pankaj Sinha also maintained that the inquiry was not held under Ordinance XV-D. However, even if there were procedural violations that did not mean that there was no merit in the case. He suggested that the matter should be referred to the College Complaint Committee (CCC) under XV (D) and that the action against R.K. Sinha should be withdrawn. Sanjay Bohidar pointed out the seriousness of the charge of sexual harassment and regretted that the CCC had not been constituted under XV (D). But he insisted that the procedures followed by the college were in the spirit of XV (D). Sanjay Bohidar did not accept the view that serious procedural irregularities had taken place as argued by Rajiv Ray. Nandita Narain took serious note of the fact that Ordinance XV (D) had been violated in Dyal Singh College. She recalled that the ordinance had been formulated after the Supreme Court Guidelines on Sexual Harassment at the Workplace. It was not in place at the time of the S.C. Bhatia case. His termination was not carried out by the University until the President of India, in his capacity as the Visitor, had intervened.
Tripta Wahi of the Forum for Democratic Struggle (FDS) congratulated the woman teacher for having the courage to raise the issue of sexual harassment in the face of tremendous pressure and opposition. She pointed out that several such cases of the use of obscene language even within the DUTA have occurred over the years, especially during the Shashi Bala case wherein a section of the DUTA leadership was guilty of such behaviour. It is imperative that the DUTA evolves a code of conduct for its members. While regretting that the inquiry had not been held under XV (D), Tripta Wahi maintained that the spirit of the Supreme Court guidelines had been upheld. She commended the efforts of the college to conduct a speedy enquiry, which was usually not the case. However, with the decision of the Governing Body to summarily recommend the termination of R.K. Sinha’s services without even putting the item on the agenda of the meeting, the entire issue acquired a new dimension which was likely to seriously impinge upon the service conditions of teachers. Nor was the punishment commensurate with the crime. Therefore, in her view the issue of termination had acquired greater urgency for the DUTA and must be taken up immediately.
Dinesh Varshney (Janvadi Shikshak Manch of the CPI) supported the arguments of Tripta Wahi; he also raised the question of financial irregularities. He stated that it is very difficult for a woman to stand up in a society full of patriarchy and male chauvinism. At the same time he maintained that one has to look at the background of the woman’s allegations. He asked how was it that after the compromise, the question came up again. He was of the opinion that there were serious procedural irregularities and the punishment was too harsh. He specifically raised the question of exorbitant payment (6.5% of the total cost of the project) to the college architect. He said that the mishandling of the question of sexual harassment can in future become a tool in the hands of Principals against the teaching community.
Vijay Singh, the FDS member on the DUTA Executive Committee, stressed the gravity of the charge of sexual harassment. He emphasised the serious procedural lapses committed by the authorities of Dyal Singh College, which further violated the principle of natural justice, since R.K. Sinha was not given an opportunity to reply to the inquiry committee report, nor was the matter put on the agenda of the Governing Body meeting. Further, the punishment awarded to R.K. Sinha was not commensurate to the charges laid against him. He countered the BJP/Congress argument that there was no case since the matter was amicably resolved at the Staff Association by pointing out that any woman who protested against sexual harassment was constantly subjected to immense social pressures and made to agree to some kind of compromise. The fact that the lady who was subjected to harassment later declined to accept the ‘agreement’ shows that she was earlier compelled to submit to social pressure. She was driven to seek justice in the matter. He recalled that R.K. Sinha had a history of using vulgar and abusive language in the college before and after the incident under discussion. He mentioned that R.K. Sinha used such language over years even in the DUTA office. This behaviour was totally unacceptable. In his opinion R.K. Sinha was in dire need of counselling services. He stated that by all their violations and recommendation of summary termination, as it was not legally tenable, the Governing Body had effectively saved R.K. Sinha from punishment, allowing him to go scot free. He maintained that a proper inquiry needed to be held. Finally, the right of R.K. Sinha to demand financial information under the Right to Information Act had to be upheld.
Two motions came before the house, and in the view of the FDS both were one-sided. The majority motion spoke of procedural irregularities, violation of Ordinance XV(D) and financial issues, while minimising the issue of sexual harassment. The CPM-DTF minority motion concentrated on the issue of sexual harassment, wanted an enquiry and action under Ordinance XV(D), but evaded the question of procedural irregularities and the illegal recommendation of the termination of services of a teacher. When the DTF sought FDS support for their motion, Vijay Singh agreed to support it provided that the procedural irregularities, the violation of natural justice and illegal recommendation of termination by the Governing Body of Dyal Singh College were mentioned. The DTF then accepted that they would amend their motion. Under pressure from the FDS, they added one line that action should be taken only after process of law. But, they refused to acknowledge in their motion that procedural irregularities, the violation of natural justice and an illegal procedure for recommending termination had taken place.
The issue of the termination of a teacher’s services in violation of the procedures and ordinances of Delhi University is a matter of overriding concern. It has serious implications for the entire teaching community, our service conditions and gives arbitrary powers to the governing bodies of colleges; the committee was formed just by the Principal and Chairman. Hence, the FDS member voted for the motion which was the lesser evil despite his reservations which were placed before the house.
It is an unfortunate fact shown by the history of the DUTA that the stands of various groups led by the BJP, Congress and the CPI-(M) are determined not by the intrinsic merits of the issues, but by the political mileage that they hope to derive out of any issue at a given time. Today the BJP and the Congress pretend to be anxious to uphold the due process of law, while in 2002 they demanded the summary termination of S.A.R. Geelani’s services. Two of the CPI M leaders – the then President of the DUTA and a former DUTA President and a current state committee member of the CPI (M) – called for Geelani’s suspension. The party leadership carried out a verbal campaign in the university saying that he was guilty of ‘terrorism’ before the matter had even gone to court. Even in cases of corruption and sexual harassment, political criteria have played a determining role for the DTF-CPM. For instance, the DTF took up the Shashi Bala case where their political opponents were implicated. It bungled the Sushma Merh sexual harassment case wherein the Justice Wad committee report had indicted S.C. Bhatia. The DTF member of the Executive Council absented himself when voting was to be done for the termination of S.C. Bhatia after due process of law in a situation where the Executive Council of the University of Delhi was evenly divided; they were practically absent from the subsequent struggle. The CPI (M) record is even more abysmal in the cases of the sexual harassment of the non-teaching staff. They were nowhere in the Bina Rani case despite the presence of the current DTF Secretary in Hindu College. Where were they in the Ramjas library case? They were nowhere to be seen or heard. It is remarkable that a DTF member of the DUTA Executive Committee put her signatures to the enquiry report by the DUTA itself which whitewashed the issue of sexual harassment of a woman teacher by a male colleague who is now the Principal of a prestigious college in the University.
The sorry record of the CPM-DTF on the question of sexual harassment in the University is in harmony with their compromises on other questions such as reservation for the oppressed castes, on academic questions, on the defence of scientific and democratic ideas on campus. Under the NDA regime the DTF collaborated with the BJP and the NDTF to introduce neo-liberalism, privatisation and globalisation in the university; they shockingly echoed the views of L.K. Advani on the parliamentary attack case; sat silently in the Academic Council when Savarkar was inserted in the political science courses; declined to confront the talibanisation of courses, and refused to take up the question of relief for the victims of the Gujarat massacres in the DUTA.
The CPI (M) as one of the three principal patronage groups in the University has increasingly arrogated to itself the right to decide on the basis of political criteria as to who shall be employed and re-employed and who would be suspended and terminated in the University of Delhi.
The way the entire case has been mired in serious procedural violations, particularly the summary recommendation of termination of a teacher’s services, has caused serious misapprehensions among the teaching community on the issue of sexual harassment at the work place. Its handling has created conditions which can only give a serious setback to the struggle against sexual harassment in the university. We need to stand up to undo the damage done to the cause of fighting sexual harassment at the work place through the subversion of rule of law and natural justice.
The Vice- Chancellor has now sent the case to the Apex Committee of the University of Delhi on the issue of sexual harassment. The Apex Committee must follow procedures and deliver justice
The issues of right to information and the high fee paid to the architect are serious issues by themselves and need to be taken up separately, but these should not be allowed to sidetrack the issue of sexual harassment
It is important that the teaching community stands up in acting for consistent democracy and be vigilant against those parties holding democratic principles to ransom in their narrow partisan interests.
Forum for Democratic Struggle
25 July 2006
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