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Did Panjab University expel a female PhD scholar to shield a Dean's son?

Priyata Brajabasi | Updated on: 20 June 2017, 23:26 IST
(Arya Sharma)

The PhD scholar who was expelled by Panjab University has written to the National Commission for Women over wrongful termination of her thesis.

She has alleged that the probe regarding a sexual harassment complaint by her, was biased as it involved the son of a University faculty member.

The student’s enrollment into the varsity’s PhD programme was terminated on 14 June after an internal probe by Panjab University Committee Against Sexual Harassment (PUCASH) found her allegations of sexual harassment against the accused ‘false.’ Based on the findings of PUCASH, the university’s senate and syndicate decided to terminate her PhD enrollment.

On 1 February the scholar complained to the University via email of sexual harassment by the son of the Mrs Neena Capalash who is a faculty of the Department of Biotechnology in the University and also the Dean of Students’ Welfare (DSW Women). The boy’s father is Prof Sharma who is a faculty member at the Department of Microbiology.

What’s interesting is that the PU letter of her termination neither makes any mention of the accused nor gives any detailed reasons for the decision. The PhD student has alleged that PUCASH unilaterally took the decision without taking her version into account. The complaint of sexual harassment dates back to January 7 when the complainant was riding her Scooty in the University premises and was allegedly followed by a boy.

The complainant's version

“On 7 January, I was driving a friend’s relative Mrs Seema (who had come to Chandigarh for KVS exam) to the faculty guest house on my Scooty on campus, when a boy in a white Ford Endeavour started passing lewd remarks at us. After I dropped her to the guest house, I noticed that the boy was still following me. He was still verbally harassing me. As I accelerated, the boy intentionally dashed into my Scooty. When I was lying on the road, he said, “Nikaal di na teri akad? (I just killed your ego). I had no idea who he was. I was taken to the PGI trauma centre in a University vehicle as my right ankle was badly injured. Mrs Neena Capalash came to the hospital. I had no idea she was the boy’s mother. I thought she was there as she was the Dean of Students’ Welfare for women,” the complainant told Catch.

She further added, “In the hospital I was in no condition to make complaints of sexual harassment to the police who were also present. I went into my first surgery that night. Mrs Neena Capalash came to visit me the next day and made me sign a document. I had no idea what it was and I was in no condition to read. I still did not know she was the same boy’s mother. That document later was used against me as a proof of reconciliation. I have filed an RTI request to see the contents of the copy but it has not been provided yet.”

What the administration says

Catch spoke to Capalash who called the complainant’s allegation of sexual harassment “completely false and concocted”. She claims that she did not make the girl sign anything. “In fact in the hospital, she told us that she had no complaint. I have a recording of her saying that she blames no one for the accident. The accident did not happen intentionally. I had sent my son to the nearby market to bring some things for the house. He has grown up in this University and never has he  harassed anyone. This sexual harassment allegation is just a case of extortion. It took her 3 weeks to make the complaint after the incident. The allegation is an “afterthought”. I do not want to bring more attention to my family, but I will say that the complainant has tried to extort some amount of money from us,” she said.

In response, the complainant told Catch that she made no such demand. “I did not even speak to Mrs Capalash when I found out a few days later through my friends that she was the same boy’s mother. As far as the delay in complaint goes, can you imagine my condition when I was in the hospital trying to recover after surgery? I had a bone grafting surgery and had 3 metal plates inserted in my right ankle”.

However, the police case registered on the day of the incident does not include any section of sexual harassment. According to the FIR, the accused was charged with rash driving and causing hurt to others under sections 279 and 337 of the IPC. Police found that the accused did not have a valid driving license.

On 4 February, the complainant filed an FIR alleging sexual harassment. Indian Express quoted Station House Officer of Chandigarh's Sector 11 police station Inspector Lakhbir Singh as saying that they had not found enough evidence to proceed with the sexual harassment charges.

The internal probe

According to Jagdish Chander Mehta, the complaint’s PhD supervisor and faculty member at DAV College Chandigarh, the V-C of the university had already deemed the allegations by the complainant as false.

“The day my student filed the complainant with the University, I started getting calls from the V-C. He asked me to disown the student saying that the accused was the son of the university’s DSW. He even threatened me,” Mehta told Catch.

Mehta added, “The family of the accused is very powerful. His maternal grandmother is Prof Pam Rajput, a long term member of PU’s Senate  and Syndicate. Obviously, the probe would have not found the boy guilty.”

He added, “Why did any internal inquiry take place when the accused does not study or is not even employed by the University? Why wasn’t the police asked to investigate the matter by the University? Secondly, if the University probe had found the accused guilty, what sort of a punishment could they have enforced on a person who does not belong to the University? How can a university conduct a probe concerning two people when the same ramifications cannot affect the two people?”

PUCASH Chairperson Nistha Jaswal refused to make any comment regarding the probe. She did however say that because the incident happened on campus, it is within the purview of the University to probe the matter.

The complainant told Catch, “The probe was rigged against me from the start. The statement given by Mrs Seema to the police of Station 11 was not considered valid by the university because she could not be present. During a senate meeting on 26 March, the V-C had already declared my allegations to be false while the probe was still going on.”

The Panjab University V-C Arun Grover was unavailable for comment when contacted.

Panjab University's notification
First published: 20 June 2017, 23:26 IST
Priyata Brajabasi @PriyataB

Priyata thinks in words and delivers in pictures. The marriage of the two, she believes, is of utmost importance. Priyata joined the Catch team after working at Barcroft Media as a picture desk editor. Prior to that she was on the Output Desk of NDTV 24X7. At work Priyata is all about the news. Outside of it, she can't stay far enough. She immerses herself in stories through films, books and television shows. Oh, and she can eat. Like really.