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“The problem is rather deep rooted …of patriarchy that see members of a particular gender as a commodity to be used.” – NUJS Professor, Nandan Nawn on the Intern case

“The problem is rather deep rooted …of patriarchy that see members of a particular gender as a commodity to be used.” – NUJS Professor, Nandan Nawn on the Intern case

Pallavi Saluja

The NUJS faculty yesterday issued a statement in support of the law intern, who has accused retired Supreme Court Judge Justice Ganguly of sexually harassing her.

In this petition, the 12 faculty members have condemned the ‘character assassination’ of the law intern by Justice Ganguly and several others. The faculty has also appealed to the NUJS authorities to take immediate steps to remove Justice Ganguly as a honorary professor.

Bar & Bench spoke with NUJS faculty members Nandan Nawn and Saurabh Bhattacharjee, who signed this petition demanding immediate action against Justice Ganguly.

B&B: When did the faculty first get to know about this incident?

Nandan Nawn: I do not know but for the sake of argument, let us imagine that she did share her experience with some of the faculty members. Given that there is no regulation against sexual harassment even now at NUJS, at the institutional level, hardly anything could be done. Even in the presence of such a regulation, the very fact that the alleged incident took place outside the University premises I doubt anything could have been done.

Finally, even if we have a regulation covering internships, I cannot even imagine a person of the stature of a former judge of the Supreme Court being served a notice by the Internal Complaints Committee as envisaged in Vishaka or included in the new regulation [The Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (Act)], and ‘deposing’ before it. No educational institution has or can have the capacity to handle the matter. As a metaphor one may consider the repeated harassments that juniors suffer by the senior lawyers.

Saurabh Bhattacharjee: We cannot say that authoritatively for all the faculty members. But there is some ambiguity about the status of acts done outside University premises during internships under the Vishaka guidelines that the University has been following prior to the notification of the new Act. Moreover, one must understand that the faculty is also under an obligation to respect our student’s autonomy and agency and could not have unilaterally lodged a complaint.

B&B: The NUJS administration did not take any action or investigate the issue even though it was committed during academic engagement and the judge was provided with research assistance by the University. What do you have to say?

Nandan: As addressed in the question above, NUJS or for that matter any academic institution does or cannot have a capacity to deal with matters of this nature. The problem is rather deep rooted in our society, of patriarchy that see members of a particular gender as a commodity to be used and abused in any manner that the powerful wants.

Again, one may put oneself in the law intern’s position – a 20-something fresh passout who has her entire career ahead of her. How much courage does one require to cross the line? And given that the battle will be a lonely one, against mountain like odds. Personally I salute her – and being her direct teacher, I take extreme pride in the fact we could (I guess so) imbibe some values including courage and integrity through our teaching.

Saurabh: I do feel that we should have been more proactive. But the matter was raised in a Faculty Meeting soon after the publication of the blogpost. Since the CJI had constituted a Committee by then, the Vice-Chancellor had said that action would be taken by the Executive Council after the inquiry report or when a formal complaint is filed. It was also resolved that rules be adopted to create an institutional mechanism which students can take resort to in a case of harassment during internship. Now that it is almost a month since the report of the Supreme Court Committee, which found prima facie merit in the allegations, we issued this statement to emphasise on the need for quick action.

B&B: What has the University done to handle such kind of situations in the future?

Saurabh: We have framed a Draft Policy on ‘Sexual Harassment During Internships’ that has been circulated for consultation and we hope that it would be adopted, after due consultation, once the University reopens. This would supplement the statutory obligation that the University would have under the new statute.

B&B: Any other thoughts on this issue?   

Nandan: Bar & Bench may start an inquiry into the possible institutional structures available at all the law schools to handle matters of this nature, i.e. involving someone who is not a member of the institution, taking place at a place outside the institution. Further, given the recent rise of self arranged internships by the students, I wonder whether any institutional structure can be of any use, except the ones provided by common law.

Saurabh: There is a need to move beyond the specifics of this case and emphasise on institutional measures required to protect student interns and clarify their status under the new statute on sexual harassment. Further, we must ensure that such institutions are sensitive to the pressure, personal, professional and societal, that any student/intern/employee has to confront before lodging a complaint. Insistence on filing of a complaint within few days of the incident, as some have asserted, is therefore uncalled for.

We must also speak against politicisation of such complaints. To impute reflexively that a complaint is motivated by political calculations is to deny our students and complainants in general, their agency and capability to choose for themselves.