#MeToo case against Mumbai principal: Panel orders action against college, cops
The Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (MSHRC) has held KJ Somaiya College of Science and Commerce and the Mumbai Police responsible for the “grave injustice” done to two professors allegedly sexually harassed by a former principal of the college.
The MSHRC has granted compensation of ₹5 lakh each to both the survivors, ordering that the amount be recovered from the erring police officers of Tilak Nagar and Juhu police stations for blatant dereliction of duties. The commission has also ordered departmental inquiries against the police officers. MA Sayeed, judicial member and acting chairperson of MSHRC, passed the order on April 26, a day before his retirement. But a copy of the order was made available to the survivors only on Monday, June 14. The accused, Dr Rajpal Hande, died on September 3, 2020.
The commission in its order recommended that the vice-chancellor of Mumbai University (MU) to consider initiating necessary action against the erring management of KJ Somaiya College for having committed serious lapses in turning a blind eye towards the grievances of the professors.
One of the complainants, a Nagpur-based professor, who fought for justice for more than 14 long years, is a wildlife scientist with several national and international awards for wildlife and environment conservation. She had alleged in January 2004, the then principal of K J Somaiya College of Science and Commerce, Hande, showed her a cassette tape with a suggestive cover picture of Khajuraho temple. At one instance, Hande allegedly held the professor’s shoulder from behind and when she resisted, he told her “I am treating you like my girlfriend.” As per her complaint, Hande allegedly sexually harassed her on multiple occasions between 2004 and 2007, when he was principal of the college.
She first complained about the harassment in 2007, but the Tilak Nagar police registered a first information report (FIR) only in 2018 after she wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on September 23, 2017. She said that the police, however, took action in her case in January 2020, only after she approached the state human rights commission in March 2019.
After the first FIR was registered on Hande, another professor, a psychologist, alleged that Hande misbehaved with her at a conference held by the Bombay Psychological Association in 2016 at Mithibai College. After no action was taken by the college, she filed a complaint against him at Juhu police station on February 10, 2019, alleging sexual harassment.
The Nagpur-based professor said that she lost her job after she complained against Hande to various authorities, including the MU and the women’s rights commission. The college dismissed her on the charges of “defaming” the principal and the college.
The commission in its order observed that neither the [college] management, nor the police rose to the occasion, to extend and protect dignity and honour of the ladies, holding important positions in the society and they had to virtually wage a war for vindication of their rights. No plausible justification or explanation came to be submitted on record by either the police, as to why no prompt and immediate action was taken by them on receipt of victim’s report of sexual exploitation by the alleged culprit. These are the grey areas, which has not been explained or attempted to be justified by cogent and plausibile material.
The commission also observed that it was pertinent to note that despite the reports making out a cognisable case, the concerned police took their own sweet time in registering an offence against the culprit.
The investigation wing of the commission found that the complainant professor had filed 103 oral and written complaints against Hande with the management of KJ Somaiya College, but no action was taken by the college. Instead, the college management supported Hande by issuing a warning to the professor.
College in-charge Samir Somaiya, secretary V Ranganathan and female member Patricia Gokhale, had knowledge of the entire matter, but they did not take cognisance of it, it said.
“If they would have acted on time, then the victim professor’s sexual, financial and mental harassment could have been averted; the investigation wing of the commission found facts in this claim of the victim and feels it is important that police inspector Savita Chavan, the investigation officer of the case, must thoroughly probe the case to ascertain the involvement of the college management in the matter,” the order read.
The commission’s investigators also found that the MU tribunal in its 2014 verdict pointed out that Hande, Somaiya college and MP Sadekar, the inquiry officer appointed by the college, in connivance with each other, sacked the professor. But, the police failed to take note of this.
It was also found that the KJ Somaiya college administration on being asked, responded to the police that in the college’s records they found no complaints of any irregularities against the professor.
“The incident and later, the struggle to get justice, have shattered my life. For many years, I had gone through tremendous mental and financial stress. After the commission’s validation of my complaint, the police should now book the police on charges of abetment, conspiracy, common intention for helping Hande. I have now written to the charity commissioner requesting strict action on Somaiya Trust by cancelling the registration of Somaiya Trust under section of 12 D of Society Act 1860 where the Trustee supported the accused person and encouraged him for serious and heinous crime of sexual harassment,” the survivor told HT.
The spokesperson for the Somaiya Group, said, “As we haven’t received any order or communication from the state human rights commission it would not be appropriate to comment on the matter. “
When asked what action will be taken against the erring police officers, DCP (zone 6) Krishnakant Upadhyay and DCP (zone 9) Abhishekh Trimukhe, said they haven’t received the commission’s order yet and won’t be able to comment on the matter.