Sexual harassment case: PU senate undecided on punishment to assistant professor
It was a serious matter - of sexual harassment charges levelled at Panjab University (PU) assistant professor Komal Singh by a number of students, but PU senators did not seem to think so. Despite heated arguments, in which one of the senators, Prof Chaman Lal, even said the accused had committed a “certain misconduct” not amounting to attempted rape or rape, the senate was undecided on the quantum of punishment for the offender.
The senate met on Sunday and the case against Komal Singh of the public administration department was taken up at around 12:30pm, but even after five hours of arguments no decision was taken on the punishment to be handed out to him.
Panjab University Committee Against Sexual Harassment (PUCASH) has held Singh guilty of sexually harassing a number of students.
Despite 32 out of 50 senate members voting in favour of his removal from service, senators supporting the accused raised objections, leading to postponement of the matter for the next meeting scheduled for April 15.
Moral misconduct, not rape, says senator
Senate member Prof Chaman Lal drew flack from a woman senator for suggesting that the punishment handed out to Komal Singh should be proportionate to his crime, which was not as grave as rape.
This man is not accused of raping a student, or even attempt to rape, Prof Lal said. “ Whatever he is accused of is a certain misconduct with students and then there are issues of drinking etc. These all are moral issues, which a teacher should not do,” he said. Objecting to Prof Lal’s statement, “rape toh nahin kiya” (he did not commit rape), Prof Pam Rajput retorted: “So should we wait for rape to happen and then do a candle march? The modesty of a female has been outraged and it is a crime,” she stated.
Demanding that responsibilities be fixed and the culprit punished, Prof Rajput said the case had been continuing for three years and the Act (Sexual Harassment) says that within 90 days the sexual harassment committee should take up the case and decide on it. “What was happening for three years and who is responsible for that,” she asked.
Prof Rajput later also challenged a few senators to accept openly that they wanted to save the guilty. “You are making a mockery of the senate and of womens’ dignity. You say it openly that you want to save the culprit. Have a heart and say it,” she told them.
Prof Rajput also that that this was a test case for the university and the wrong example should not be set.
Another senate member, responding to Prof Lal’s statement that the accused was a Dalit, said the conduct of a teacher, not a scheduled caste teacher, was being discussed.
Many members were of the opinion that if the punishment did not match the offence then such offenders would be emboldened. “These children come to us with trust, we cannot breach that,” a member said.
Arguments and counter arguments go on for five hours
As the issue was taken up, senator Ajay Ranga made an attempt to garner sympathy for Komal Singh, drawing attention to his medical condition, minor children, wife and elderly parents. “My appeal to the house is that he should be punished but think of the family as well. As punishment, you can cut one or two increments,” he said.
To this, Panjab University vice chancellor (VC) Arun Grover said, “For this person it has become a habit. We have a responsibility towards the students and society.”
Other senators, too, said that as the accused seemed to have made it a habit to harass students, “We have to look after our students. Otherwise, anyone will commit a mistake and will seek mercy on the plea that they have families.” Prof RP Bambah suggested that psychological treatment be recommended for the accused without pay or compulsory leave, to which Grover said he had tried the option but it had not worked.
Other senators also expressed the concern that any leniency shown to the offender would send out the wrong message to studebts. “This man is guilty, is in the habit of doing these heinous things and there is no room for sympathy,” senatorVK Sibal said.
Prof IS Chadha felt the quantum of punishment was the main issue. “ What we have before us is a reply to a show cause notice, which was issued under a particular regulation, which prescribes major penalty.”
The three options were demotion to a lower rank, removal from service and finally dismissal.
He suggested that Komal Singh be removed for service and be allowed to search for employed in other places as “He is not fit to continue as a teacher in this university.”
Discussing previous options considered, VC Grover said, “all options like sending him to rehabilitation, transfer to USOL (University School of Open Learning) have been exhausted. At the moment, I cannot risk getting him back to teaching. All that we do is to choose option two - so that he can explore job opportunities somewhere else.”
Stressing on the need to take an immediate decision he said, “postponing it will bring a bad reputation to the body,so I think we should have the courage to take a call.”
32 vote in favour of Komal Singh’s removal
Prof RP Bambah told the VC that until there was a majority of two-thirds senator votes a PU teacher could not be removed from service. The senators were given two options for voting: Demotion or removal from service. Finally, voting was done at 4:45 pm and results announced at 5:15 pm.
Of the 51 members present, one vote was invalid. Eighteen senators voted in favour of option one , which was demotion and 32 opted for removal from service. Despite the majority being in favour of Komal Singh’s removal, a few senators objected that two-thirds of the majority (34 of those present) did not vote in the favour of the second option, hence he could not be removed.
Summing up events, Grover said, “No punishment is not an answer when misconduct is of this nature. So, I would like to adjourn the meeting now and will consider legal opinion. This matter will be discussed in the next senate meeting on April 15.” While the senators stood again to protest the VC played the national anthem to silence them.