Bombay HC pulls up IIT researcher accused of sexual harassment for comments on complainant’s personality

The petitioner also argued that he is not an employee of the complainant or the university and thus the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act doesn't apply
IIT Bombay
IIT Bombay

The Bombay High Court asked an IIT Bombay research scholar, who had moved the Court, seeking his PhD degree which was withheld on account of an “unsatisfactory apology” in a sexual harassment complaint lodged by an assistant professor, to refrain from commenting on the woman's personality. The Court said that he can express his views but not make comments on someone's personality.

Justice S C Dharmadhikari and Justice Gautam Patel's Division Bench while hearing the matter said that comments like these are not welcome. “What is the question of making any comment on her personality?…It is a personal attack and it is uncalled for,” said Justice Patel.

The scholar completed his MPhil and is a Senior Research Fellow now. He also questioned the validity of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act in a case in which there is no relationship of employer and employee and also when the IIT Bombay cannot be regarded as workplace of the petitioner as he is only a student. The court further said that it will pass orders soon. 

According to the petition, in December 2017, posters with slogan “Stop Hindutva Terrorism” were pasted outside the petitioner's hostel mess, allegedly by members of Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC). The petitioner alleged that members of APPSC along with an assistant woman professor planned to silence him. He said the professor by an email on April 19, 2018, invited him for an informal meeting. He added that APPFC professors and other faculty members “wrongfully construed” the reply as sexist remarks and organised a signature campaign against him. 

By the time the complaint was lodged, the petitioner had successfully appeared for viva-voce for his PhD thesis in April 2018. 
The petition added that the chairperson of ICC then mailed the HOD of his department, directing to withhold all clearances of the petitioner pending inquiry, reported The Indian Express. The ICC last year recorded that “it finds merit in the complaint” and directed the petitioner to tender an apology in a manner prescribed.

The decision of ICC was upheld by the appellate authority, which asked him to apologise. In August, the petitioner submitted an apology. He was given his provisional degree, but during the convocation ceremony of PhD 2017-2018, the petitioner was not conferred his degree. In December 2018 the media reported that the petitioner was informed by Directorate of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievance that the apology was found to be unsatisfactory and, therefore, his degree is being withheld.

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