Jadavpur ICC releases report on student accused of sexual harassment
The Internal Complaints Committee of Jadavpur University (JU) in its report against Ekalavya Chaudhuri, the student accused of sexual harassment, recommended that the offender should receive pastoral treatment or counseling.
The report was the outcome of studying the evidence submitted by the complainants (female undergraduates of JU) along with testimonies of the survivors, the accused, witnesses and the members of the faculty.
The report was filed in the aftermath of the furore over social media. Having put up with the accused’s sexual harassment for over a year, the survivors (which included minors as well) came out on Facebook on the 23rd of July, 2016, exposing their ordeal and demanding justice. This was followed by a departmental General Body (GB) meeting on the 27th of July, where the matter was taken up by the Arts Faculty Students’ Union for speedy prosecution. The Vice Chancellor of JU, Suranjan Das, had given orders to set up an independent probe committee an The Vice Chancellor of JU, Suranjan Das, had given orders to set up an independent probe committee and suspend the accused during the period of investigation.
One of the complainants, speaking to us after the report was released, said, “Sexual harassment, molestation: these are not concerns of just a few of us, it is a concern of all women (trans and cis), especially in an environment where most perpetrators are men. We have been failed before in our quest for justice. We, not just as survivors of sexual violence, but united women, want justice. We do not want to be failed again.”
The report mentioned that the victims, despite having faced harassment from the accused on multiple occasions, were afraid of lodging a complaint. This was because the accused’s mother, being a senior faculty member of the department, had influence over their academic lives. Ekalavya, often referred to as ‘the topper of his class’, had certain influence on the college campus as well, with the report stating: “witnesses imply that such a high-achieving student intimidated others, who may have found it difficult to protest against unwanted touch or lodge complaints.”
However, the Head of the Department of English (to which the complainants and accused belonged), Professor Abhijit Gupta, denied these claims, stating that the department was impartial towards children of faculty members. The Committee had also gathered testimonies from Professor Santanu Biswas [Former HOD], Professor Paromita Chakravorti and Dr Rimi B. Chatterjee, chair of the Teacher-Student Committee. They, too, asserted that “an atmosphere of fear” did not exist in the department.
Additionally, the committee did not dismiss the fact that the accused’s friend, Janhabi Mukherjee, a student of Presidency University, had harassed and intimidated one of the victims while attending classes at JU. While the university did not bar the exchange of higher learning among distinguished institutions, it was mandatory to have safeguards that prevented students of outside institutions from victimizing students of the varsity.
The accused had, throughout the investigation, repeatedly denied the charges against him, stating that the complainants were maligning him by fabricating facts, despite the body of evidence uploaded on social media by the survivors. He further defended himself arguing that his sexual conversation with one survivor had been consensual. He later admitted to have hugged one of his victims in a sexual move. This later admission was at odds with his initial claim that the ambience of the department professing ‘free love’ could not consider hugging a sexual offence. He apologized for having caused ‘discomfort’, which he maintained was unintentional.
The committee seconded Dr. Rimi B. Chatterjee’s suggestion that the accused undergo counseling to address these critical issues, which the accused agreed to. The verdict had also taken into account that the offender was “facing peer pressure”, had been excluded from college GB meetings and class activities.
The report also mentioned that a complaint had to be filed within a period of three months from the date of the incident. With the exception of one complainant, the victims had filed their complaints a year after the alleged incidents had taken place, making it difficult for the committee to determine the authenticity of the incidents.
The committee concluded by recommending the setting up of student bodies to tackle these issues and the passing of an anti-ragging declaration to deal specifically with sexual assault and ‘gender sensitivity’. It further stressed on the need to give ‘institutional attention’ to the inconclusive quality of the crisis centering social media. Short term measures such as conducting workshops could address the crisis but were “unable to suggest a regulatory mechanism to prevent the occurrence of such incidents.”
The final verdict by the ICC will be released in 90 days since the lodging of the complaint. Watch this space for more updates.