Ashoka University sexual harassment case: Complainant says she got no justice; institute claims it stuck to due process
Ashoka University students and alumni wrote an open letter on a website on the plight of the woman who accused professor Mitul Baruah of sexual harassment.
Ashoka University in Sonepat near Delhi is currently in the news because one of its professors has been accused of sexual harassment. A group of students and alumni of the university created a website – youtooashoka.in – on which they have claimed that seeking redress through the "due process" has done next to nothing to help the woman, who has accused Mitul Baruah, the assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, of sexual harassment.
Baruah was earlier named in the crowd-sourced list of alleged sexual predators in academia, started by law student Raya Sarkar.
In a letter to the students, the university claimed that the case had been decided, and that they had informed the concerned parties of the final outcome. However, the complainant has disagreed with this statement. The website the students created quoted portions from the disciplinary committee report, which is believed to have said that Baruah's actions "would not fall in the ambit of sexual harassment at the workplace", but that he is "guilty of misconduct according to all ethical norms of professional conduct and conduct at the workplace".
The website also states that in an email, the institute told the woman that as Baruah was not found guilty of sexual harassment, there was no question of them informing her about any action taken against him.
"I have no access to the quantum of punishment to be meted out to the perpetrator, whom the disciplinary committee found guilty of misconduct," she told Firstpost in an email. "Despite my repeated pleas that this goes against natural justice, I have not been informed."
She further said: "My experience has been harrowing and traumatic, as a process that should last for only 90 days has gone on for more than nine months now, going against every principle of the CASH (Committee Against Sexual Harassment). It has been excruciating to be put through so much harassment and to relive my trauma. I turned to institutions because I respect due processes, and throughout this period, I maintained the sanctity of the process. However, today, as everyone can see, I have received no justice, despite expending all my physical, mental, emotional and financial resources."
When contacted, Pratap Bhanu Mehta. the vice-chancellor of Ashoka University, directed this reporter to an official statement, in which the varsity said: "Ashoka has adjudicated this case with the highest standards of integrity, due process and fairness…We strongly advise that all material appearing in the public domain be treated with due caution, as a lot of it seems to be based on unsubstantiated speculation, or very selectively leaked materials. Ashoka is deeply committed to zero tolerance on sexual harassment."
Baruah could not be reached for comment, despite several attempts.
The case dates back to 6 April, 2017, when the woman filed a complaint against Baruah at the university at which she worked. In September 2017, this university's Committee Against Sexual Harassment (CASH) noted that the relationship between the complainant and the defendant had been "mostly consensual, but it involved manipulative consent on the part of the defendant with abuse of patriarchal power in the professional sphere centred around the workplace". After the CASH here forwarded the complaint to Ashoka University, it formed an ad-hoc committee to look into the charges. The CASH at Ashoka University released a report in the matter, after which the disciplinary committee constituted found that Baruah's actions did not constitute sexual harassment.
On the website youtooashoka.in, students and alumni have alleged that Ashoka University bypassed norms and principles of justice at several points of time. They claimed that while the ad-hoc committee did not ask the woman for evidence when she deposed before it, its report stated that she submitted her proof after the inquiry was concluded. According to the open letter on the website, a member of the CASH (who was not part of the ad-hoc panel) asked her to submit evidence well after her deposition, which she did on the member's "personal request". They also alleged that the complainant was not provided with a copy of the report before it was finalised and was not allowed to make a representation against the same, which violates the university's CASH policy.
On 9 June, undergraduate students and Young India fellows circulated a petition, demanding punishment for Baruah for "misconduct" and compensation for the woman for the delays in the case. In response, the vice-chancellor of Ashoka University said the matter was in its "last stages" and expressed disappointment that the students and fellows had chosen "not to trust the institution". "We are surprised that it (resolution of the case) has taken us longer than we had hoped or expected," Mehta added. "This had to (do) with the circumstances of the case. In any case, both parties involved have been informed of the results at each and every stage. But that is the price we pay for making sure justice is done and all the legal issues are covered."
The woman also claimed she has received threats over the phone, after which she has filed an FIR with the police. Baruah is reportedly listed as the only prime suspect in the FIR.
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