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Legal action against the authority for holding an inquiry against a person for sexual harassment 

Shivendra Pratap Singh

Advocate

14/06/2022

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Question: One of my male faculty and his lady student developed a friendly relation and exchanged WhatApp chat for the last one year on all issues, decent/indecent, appropriate/inappropriate everything. She shares her family picture and one or two DPs on demand.  The girl student (adult) never raised any objection to any messages of the faculty, never blocked his cell no and never complained to the highest authority of the college and always reciprocated. 

Always praised him as a good professor, good person in an open forum in presence of other faculty. Even on New Year and on festive occasions wished him with good health, happiness and prosperity. Last one year was pandemic time and all exams of the university were held in offline mode. She did not face any problem to pass the exams. Now the university decided to take the exam in offline mode and from then on this particular lady started using bad mouthing against the professor. 

Professor blocked her WhatApp account in his cell. Thereby this lady student placed a complaint before the highest authority of the university along with screenshots of several exchanges. In her complaint she categorically mentioned that as she denied proposals of the concerned faculty so HE blocked her account and therefore she is not getting any help from him in studies. She prayed to replace the faculty from the particular subject. 

Although in her complaint she never mentioned the word HARASSMENT or SEXUAL HARASSMENT. On receipt of the complaint Secretary of my college (Administrative head) referred the matter to “Sexual harassment enquiry committee (ICC)” of the college and presiding officer of the committee called both the professor and the student in a committee meeting hurriedly arranged without giving official notice. 

Professor was neither called officially to appear before the committee members nor given any charge sheet.  Copies of screenshots were distributed, by the presiding officer, to committee members through WhatApp (most probably as per instruction of the Secretary). As a result all these went viral. Further the Secretary conducted several close door meetings on the issue with many non-committee members and thereby there is now full Breach of Security to sensitive information. 

The concerned faculty and the student both appeared before the committee. But the professor was not allowed to cross examine the lady student. After “ICC” Secretary of the institute from the concerned committee member and is now giving tremendous pressure to all to write the minutes of the meeting in such a way so that the concerned faculty could be defamed with sexual harassment. 

Although in meeting the concerned student categorically mentioned that she never put any sexual harassment complaint. I, as Academic Head, immediately replaced the faculty from assignments of the class where this lady is a student. My question is 1)   Are there any remedies for the professor? 2) What action could be taken against the Secretary & Presiding officer for facilitating Breach of security of sensitive information? 

Asked from: West Bengal

The main complaint of that lady was related to not getting any help from the faculty in respect of her studies. However, she was shared some screenshots of whatsapp messages but she never complained about the sexual harassment against the faculty. 

In this situation the whole inquiry conducted by the sexual harassment inquiry commettee is erroneous. The screenshots annexed with the complaint became viral due to sheer negligence and mishandling of the case by the inquiry committee. Consequently the viral messages has harmed the reputation of the faculty.

In devoid of allegations regarding the sexual harassment, the inquiry held by the sexual harassment inquiry committee also harmed the reputation of that faculty.

In these circumstances the faculty can initiate proceedings against the responsible authority for his defamation. He can file a civil suit for the compensation in lieu of harm to his reputation. 

The admission of complainant (lady student) that there was no sexual harassment from the alleged faculty (professor) and lack of allegation about the sexual harassment in her complaint are clinching evidence to prove the innocence of faculty so far as relates to sexual harassment. Thus the professor can file a civil suit on the basis of this evidence.  

So far as dissemination of sensitive information is concerned, the Secretary & Presiding officer are responsible thereof. The complainant (lady student) and professor both have an option to initiate legal action. 

The lady student can lodge an FIR under Section 66E/67/67A of the Information Technology Act, and under Section 506/509 of the Indian Penal Code for criminal intimidation and insulting her modesty. 

In Justice K. S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. V. Union of India and Others [AIR 2017 SC 4161] the Supreme Court has held that sharing any content that would be a breach to the privacy of a person, therefore, would also be violating Article 21 of the Constitution of India. 

Therefore the lady student and professor can approach the High Court under Article 226 of the constitution for the breach of their fundamental right (right to privacy) and seek compensation for such a breach.

shivendra pratap singh advocate

Shivendra Pratap Singh

Advocate

Practising lawyer in the High Court Lucknow. You can consult on Criminal, Civil, Matrimonial, Writ, Service matters, Property, Revenue and RERA related issues.

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