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Proposal to appoint of ex-CJI Kabir as Honorary Professor causes “unease” at NUJS according to “unnamed staff member”

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As per this story in the Times of India, a proposal to make the former Chief Justice of India, Altamas Kabir an Honorary Professor at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS) has resulted in creating “unease” within the university. The source of this unease is Justice Kabir’s apparent “support” of Justice AK Ganguly who has been accused of sexually harassing an NUJS student while she was interning under Justice Ganguly.

The ToI report refers to an internal note circulated on December 5, 2013 amongst “everyone” which stated that,

“The university seeks to appoint Hon’ble Justice Altamas Kabir, former Chief Justice of India in the capacity of an honorary professor of WBNUJS….Justice Kabir has expressed his willingness to get associated with the university in this capacity, on a request made by the vice-chancellor, WBNUJS.”

“Justice Kabir will be taking classes on ‘Law and the Child’ in the winter semester as an optional paper and on ‘Human Rights’ in the monsoon semester, if this proposal meets your approval.”

What appears to have irked the unnamed staff member and resulted in “unease” is Justice Kabir’s response when allegations of sexual harassment against Justice Ganguly surfaced. As per the ToI report, the former Chief Justice had said,

“I am shocked and shattered. I have known Ashok for long. The allegations made on him I would never ever believe that this is possible.”

The staff member told ToI that with respect to the allegations that were raised by the then intern,

“We flagged the issue in November itself and demanded the university investigate the issue at the earliest so that a clear message is sent that NUJS is a safe environment for our students. Yet no steps were taken. Now we received the internal note on Kabir’s proposed appointment. Instead of sending a strong message that NUJS views the shameful harassment incident very seriously and such incidents should never happen when students go on university internships, we want to appoint an ex-CJI who backed Justice Ganguly and supports him.”

However, not everyone sees the move to appoint Justice Kabir as an honorary professor in a negative light. Some faculty members have expressed hope that short-term courses (such as the one Justice Kabir proposes to take) by outside faculty will be commonplace at NUJS. There are also some who feel that Justice Kabir’s practical experience will only benefit the students who attend the course. A former Chief Justice of India, it would be prudent to assume, would certainly bring some practical knowledge to academic discourse. 

Whether or not there is “unease” within the university campus, what is clear is the fact that the administration has been fairly opaque when it comes to allegations of sexual harassment. In May this year, a member of the administrative staff had alleged sexual harassment and assault by a fellow member of the NUJS administration. The Internal Complaints Committee formed to look into allegations did come out with an interim report September, but has not yet come out with a final report. In fact, one member of the ICC resigned shortly after the interim report was submitted.

Following the resignation, another faculty member has been asked to join the ICC and the ICC has subsequently met on one two occasions. It is not clear as to what transpired during those meetings. When contacted, the NUJS Registrar Dr. Surajit Mukhopadhyay,  said that a final report from the ICC is expected to be submitted “soon”.