New Delhi: Months after law student Raya Sarkar published a list of alleged sexual predators in universities across the country, a group of 30 people on Tuesday went public with their complaint against an Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) professor and the college’s refusal in taking action. Not just that, the college chairman told News18 that they are being targeted “for being liberal”.
The group of ACJ students, alumni, journalists and activists who signed the letter against the Chennai college has sought strict action against professor Sadanand Menon, who was named in Sarkar’s list over an alleged sexual harassment incident of 2012, involving a former student of the 2008 batch who was later working with Menon.
An adjunct faculty, Menon takes the Arts and Culture elective at ACJ, considered one of India’s premier institutes for journalism. He also teaches at IIT-Madras and has written for various publications in the country.
It was in January earlier this year that the complainant, a former student of the college, filed a complaint with the college’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). The committee said that it was beyond its ambit as the committee could only look into the matters that were reported within three months from the time of assault.
The committee also said that the alleged incident did not take place inside the college premises and happened at ‘Spaces’, a cultural space and amphitheater founded by Menon, where the complainant was working with the accused.
Later, a group of students from the current ACJ batch lodged a separate complaint with the ICC after they got in touch with the complainant who is a 2008-batch student. On Tuesday, the students, along with other journalists and activists, made public a letter alleging that the fresh complaint lodged with ICC was dismissed.
“Even when she pointed out that there have been instances when such complaints had been granted the seriousness they deserve, the ICC refused to relent from its limited, procedural interpretation of sexual harassment. The fact that the alleged perpetrator continued to teach at the institute made no difference to the institute’s decision to close the file without inquiry,” the letter states, adding that students of ACJ got in touch with the complainant.
“They also raised a separate complaint with the ICC, demanding an inquiry be initiated against this person since his name had appeared on the list, and some of his victims had spoken to them about being harassed by him. Their complaint, too, was dismissed,” the letter states, adding that the case clearly showed “how individuals and institutions use the notion of procedure as a convenient alibi to not take sexual harassment seriously.”
It also demanded the college to consider the allegations against Menon “seriously” and stated that ACJ had a “moral responsibility to assure students that it receives every year that it takes sexual harassment seriously.”
While Menon could not be reached for a comment, ACJ Chairman Shashi Kumar said the way this whole matter was being handled in the media was “unfortunate” because it is “half-baked and misleading”. He said that as far as his knowledge goes, there was a complaint filed by the current batch of students, which was entirely based on hearsay and had no names.
“All anonymous. How does one take action against things the college had nothing to do with? There were no specifics one could act on. The ICC which also comprises a legal professional from outside, naturally decided that these couldn’t be taken up because there was no identifiable complainant and they were only vague allegations. And in any case, the alleged incidents happened outside the college.
“I am in no way saying that those who have alleged harassment do not have a case but the college or the ICC is not the right forum to address it. The harassment, as the complaint alleges, happened outside the college and at events that were not associated with the college, nor the students of the college. They should approach the court of law or the right forum,” Chairman Kumar told News18, adding that the college had zero tolerance to cases of harassment.
Citing the fact that there were no incidents reported in the college, Kumar added, “We have not received a single written complaint that alleges harassment in the college. I can’t help thinking that this entire thing is an attack on the college for being a liberal campus.”
A person privy to the ICC procedure said that allegations made by the students that the fresh complaint made by them was dismissed, is incorrect.
"The ICC did consider the matter. Allegations that the complaint was dismissed are not true. There is a trail of emails that were exchanged by the committee and the students, wherein it was all explained to the students,” the person said, adding that one of the allegations pertained to a woman who is also former student.
“The complaint came years after the alleged incident. Also according to the complainant’s admission, the alleged incident took place outside the college premises. Therefore, the ICC had no jurisdiction to deal with the allegation,” News18 was told.
"Another complaint made by the students was that an underage girl was sexually assaulted. But an underage girl could not have been a student of ACJ. How could the college or the ICC have taken any action on that? Why was no police complaint filed in such a serious case? The students also complained that inappropriate advances were made on a boy. This boy was not a student of ACJ. So what could the ACJ or ICC have done about it? The ACJ is not a police thana,” the source further said.
The ICC, the source said, had clarified with the students that they must come up with specific details for the ICC to take up the charges, which the committee admitted were strong but the students did not come up with any specific details.
Soon after Sarkar’s list was published last year, Menon is also said to have told his class why his name was on list and also told the students to leave the class without worrying about attendance if they felt uncomfortable.
(The story was edited to protect the identity of the boy)