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The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata has recently released a draft of a policy protecting NUJS students from sexual harassment during internships. The Vice Chancellor of NUJS, Prof. Ishwara Bhatt had referred to this policy during the recently concluded convocation at NUJS the past weekend.
The policy, “Protection of Students from Sexual Harassment during Internship, 2014” provides a detailed procedure on how complaints against sexual harassment are to be made, the bodies involved and the steps that the University administration must take upon receiving such complaints.
Under the policy, any student who has been sexually harassed can make a complaint within six months of the incident. The complaint, either oral or in writing, can either be made directly to the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) or through a warden or lecturer who would then bring it to the notice of the ICC. The ICC is then given a time of 60 days to investigate the allegations and furnish a report along with recommendations to the Vice Chancellor. The VC can then forward the complaint to the appropriate authority such as the Bar Council of India, where the accused is a lawyer, the Chief Justice of India when the accused is a sitting judge or the ICC of the organisation under which the student interned.
Framed months after two former NUJS students alleged that they had been harassed by two, different judges of the Supreme Court, the policy now covers instance of sexual abuse on both “official” internships as well as those internships that have been personally arranged by the student.
This could well be a reaction to the public statement issued by Chief Justice Sathasivam in declining to investigate the allegations made against J. AK Ganguly on the ground that the intern was not an official intern of the Supreme Court. Another indirect reference to the past could be Clause 7(b), which directs the Vice Chancellor to debar the accused from taking part in any University organized programme. Weeks after the allegations against J. Ganguly surfaced, he continued to be a visiting faculty at NUJS before he voluntarily resigned from the post.
The policy no doubt brings about a greater amount of institutional support for interning students. It also recognizes, in fairly explicit terms, the “inherent power asymmetry and the vulnerability of the complainant” and places the burden on the institution to prevent a hostile environment for the complainant.