Published: 24th June 2022
NLSIU responds to alumni's open letter over sexual harassment row; alumnus says it misrepresents facts
The alumni of the University had on Wednesday, June 22 issued an open letter against the University's decision to punish student facilitators
The National Law School of India University (NLSIU) in Bengaluru on Thursday, June 23, issued their response to the University alumni’s open letter that condemned the administration for taking action against student facilitators who narrated a survivor’s sexual harassment instance upon the latter's request.
The University, in their statement, said that the open letter issued by the alumni misrepresents the action taken by the University against the students as a failure to take sexual harassment seriously. “In fact, the action was taken against the students for their failure to adhere to the ‘NLSIU’s Principles of Conduct, 2002', and ‘NLSIU’s IT Policies',” the response states.
The University also clarified in its statement that they have a strict zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment. “The University has a well developed and robust mechanism for dealing with complaints of sexual harassment under NLSIU’s Code to Combat Sexual Harassment 2019 (hereafter “Code”). The Code is also in line with the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013,” they said.
The open letter issued by the alumni mentioned that the University has witnessed instances of grave sexual harassment in the past as well. However, the University in its statement said that the University’s Sexual Harassment Inquiry Committee (SHIC) has taken action against perpetrators of abuse on various occasions in the past, including rustication.
Background, as explained
The University in its letter went on to explain the background of the situation. The student facilitators against whom action was taken, received a correspondence, in their capacity as facilitators, from a person outside the University who alleged she was sexually harassed by an NLSIU student, they said. “The correspondence does not indicate that the alleged harassment occurred on the NLSIU campus,” they added.
The statement further said that the facilitators then circulated an anonymous statement on behalf of the complainant, detailing the alleged abuse, naming the accused student, and disclosing sensitive personal information. The Disciplinary Matters Advisory Review and Investigation Committee (DARIC) of the University conducted a detailed inquiry into the incident and found that the student facilitators violated Part II (a) (1) of the Principles of Conduct, 2002 and NLSIU IT Policies, 2020. “…the conduct of the facilitators was inconsistent with the principle of fairness, the right to privacy, and the duty to avoid harm to members of the NLSIU community,” they said.
The University also noted that the student facilitators are supposed to maintain the confidentiality of all the parties involved throughout the whole complaint process. They have bypassed the sexual harassment mechanisms provided by the University which they were entrusted with upholding in their role as facilitators, the statement said. “The University takes matters of sexual harassment very seriously. NLSIU has never prevented its students from discussing issues of sexual harassment. However, to use NLSIU digital resources to publicly name someone in a matter that would be prejudicial to that person’s reputation is not conducive to the kind of community living that we would like to nurture at NLSIU,” they said in the statement.
Students of the University are not satisfied with the response of the administration. “The response in fact seriously misrepresents facts and seeks to justify the arbitrary action taken by the University,” said Mukta Joshi, an alumnus of the University.
In response to the University’s claims of the student facilitators violating the right to privacy and disclosing personal information, Mukta said that the email was sent only after the complainant’s request. Additionally, a faculty member who is the sexual harassment policy advisor was consulted before the email was sent and the faculty member did not raise any objection so the question of the email being unauthorised doesn't arise, she said.
She further said, “Upholding the 'right to privacy' of the perpetrator over the right of the victim to speak about her experience is the textbook definition of not permitting survivors to speak about sexual harassment.” In fact, not allowing students to speak about sexual harassment on University platforms is by definition deplatforming a very important issue that the University should instead be encouraging conversation about, she said.
The alumni continue to stick to the list of demands mentioned in their open letter, she said.