GNLU inquiry act of cover-up to save its image, says HC PIL on incident of rape

The division bench of the Gujarat HC stated this while hearing a suo motu PIL on a media report about the alleged occurrence

Today, Wednesday, October 11, the Gujarat High Court, hearing a suo motu PIL alleging harassment of a queer student at Gujarat National Law University (GNLU) and rape of a female student by her batchmate, stated that the institution appears to be trying to cover up the situation in order to safeguard its image.

The division bench of Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice Aniruddha P Mayee made this statement while hearing a suo motu PIL (Public Interest Litigation) on a media report about the alleged occurrence, reports PTI.

Referring to the affidavit filed by the GNLU Registrar, the bench noted, “We fail to understand as to how, and in what manner, the institute is dealing with a report which was published in the newspaper on September 22, 2023, more so when the intimation about such alleged incident was received by the Registrar, GNLU, as per his own admission, on September 19, 2023.”

The high court further said, "The manner in which the inquiry is being done by the university seems to be an effort to cover up the whole issue, to save the image of the institution.”

A newspaper published an article about the alleged harassment of a queer student and the rape of a female student by her batchmate at Gandhinagar's GNLU.

The GNLU Registrar remarked in an affidavit submitted before the high court that the anonymous Instagram post referenced in the media report appeared to be devoid of reality.

The high court also took issue with how the chairperson of the university's recently rebuilt Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) was appointed to the fact-finding committee formed to investigate the claims mentioned in the newspaper. It was also observed that the fact-finding committee had not yet submitted its report.

Saying that the alleged incident "raises an issue of grave concern which has a direct impact on the psychological and physical well-being of students”, the high court had taken suo motu cognisance of the newspaper report. 

The GNLU registrar revealed that on September 19, 2023, he got WhatsApp messages about the situation from a GNLU assistant professor and the warden of the ladies' dormitories.

He then requested that the warden of the girls' hostel inquire. The warden stated that none of the approximately 80 girls questioned at the dormitory had any knowledge of the alleged incident.

Anjani Singh Tomar, a law professor and the chairperson of the ICC at GNLU, provided a similar report on October 7, indicating that no student came to meet her and depose in relation to the registrar's email.

"The affidavit filed by the registrar, GNLU, seems to be an over-anxious effort to hush-hush the whole matter in a summary way by stating that there does not appear to be any substance in the anonymous post posted on Instagram," the high court noted in its order.

Further, the bench also noted how the person who had been made part of the fact-finding committee earlier submitted the report dated October 7. 

Students were agitated about the constitution of the internal complaint committee and it was reconstituted on September 26, it noted further. The bench wanted to know how the ICC worked prior to its reconstitution and ordered the GNLU to present the ICC's annual report for the last three years and its constitution to the court.

The counsel of GNLU, Kamal Trivedi submitted in the HC that he will conduct an inquiry in his capacity as the Advocate General of Gujarat to ensure that the fact-finding panel is reconstituted with independent members of society who have no connection with the institution at all.

The high court had already asked the university to identify the two students and record their statements while maintaining complete anonymity in a previous order.

It ordered that the female student's statement should only be recorded by a female university member or professor.

The high court stated that if the claims were determined to be true and inspire trust, the relevant legal procedures would be followed immediately.

A male student "has suffered mental trauma due to the harassment meted out to him only for the reason of him being a queer, and the other female student has levelled allegation of rape by a batchmate", according to the statement.

The newspaper report also mentions the defunct ICC and the GNLU spokeswoman responds that they have not received an official complaint from the students.

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