Srinagar, Apr 14: The University of Kashmir said on Friday that its Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) investigated the complaint filed by a PhD scholar against her then Supervisor promptly and as per the law, refuting that any “obstruction” was created in the matter.
Referring to a news report on some social media platforms which came into the notice of the University about the instant matter, a KU spokesperson said the University took all steps necessary to address the alleged complaint with promptness and to facilitate the complainant in completion of her PhD degree.
“Upon receiving the alleged complaint from the National Commission for Women, New Delhi, the University referred the matter to its Women’s Empowerment and Grievance Committee without delay. Since the complaint involved allegations of sexual harassment, as well as a complaint about the delay in the complainant’s PhD thesis submission, the matter was also referred to the University’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC),” the spokesperson said, adding that the ICC provided the complainant with a fair opportunity to record her statement freely and without fear, and the faculty member against whom the complaint was made was also provided with the same opportunity.
“To arrive at a just conclusion, the Committee also contacted the teaching and non-teaching staff at CCAS to record their observations. According to the complainant’s recorded statement before the ICC, she alleged that she was harassed in 2016 while she was preparing her synopsis and had not yet registered for her PhD,” the spokesperson said.
“However, she did not file a complaint with the authorities until December 2019 i.e. a gap of almost three years. As per the provisions of UGC (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in HEIs) Regulations, 2015, an aggrieved person/complainant can file a written complaint within three months of the incident. However despite this time lapse, the ICC went ahead with the investigating the complaint and subsequently submitted its report to the competent authority,” the spokesperson said, adding that the ICC’s report concluded, among other things, that the complaint was a result of “animosity resulting from non-compatibility between the scholar and the supervisor.”
“In view of the non-compatibility, a Co-Supervisor was nominated by the University to Co-supervise the complainant’s PhD and undertake all the process including evaluation/examination, academic clearance, formulation of panel of examiners, supervisor’s report, viva-voce, and any other necessary formalities. The co-supervisor, from the Department of Sociology, was also authorised to assess and examine the thesis of the complainant and undertake all other formalities leading to the award of the PhD degree.”
The PhD degree was subsequently awarded to the complainant on 12.12.2022.
“The University strongly denies any obstruction of action in the matter at hand. The University reiterates that it is fully committed to address any complaints related to sexual harassment and it recognises the importance of handling such complaints with utmost sensitivity. We are deeply committed to creating a fully secure academic institution/workplace for our students and women employees in all our campuses, and we will continue to ensure that complaints related to sexual harassment are handled in a timely, just and fair manner,” the spokesperson said.
The allegation that the University delayed action in the matter is far from the truth and is strongly refuted. “The University reserves the right to take appropriate legal action in case of furnishing wrong information since it involves the prestige and reputation of the institution,” the spokesperson said.
Earlier, as per Srinagar based news agency Kashmir Dot Com (KDC), a Ph.D scholar has accused the University of Kashmir of shielding a senior faculty member, Professor Tareek Rather, who allegedly sexually harassed her. The victim has filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) against the University for obstructing action against Rather, who is the head of Institute of Kashmir Studies.
The victim has alleged that Rather subjected her to mental torture and sexual advances by talking salaciously, passing obscene comments, and narrating obscene dreams. She further stated that in 2018, she requested the Director Central for Centre Asian Studies to change Rather as her supervisor, but the university refused to do so. Instead, a co-supervisor was assigned in the year 2020 after a prolonged struggle to monitor her research work.
Feeling dejected, the victim approached the National Women’s Commission (NWC) New Delhi in the same year, but the accused allegedly tried to sabotage her research work. The university constituted two committees, Women Empowerment Grievance Committee and Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), but the victim claims that the members of these committees were friendly to the accused.
She said that authorities kept on discouraging her with various threats including putting her PhD degree on hold. “The authorities used different tactics like delaying the PhD thesis submission and sitting on the notices from the NWC notice and LG’s office regarding the sexual harassment case. They even tried to coerce me to compromise and withdraw the complaint, which I refused,” the victim said.
According to ICC guidelines, a professor should be relieved of all assignments when facing an inquiry in a sexual harassment case. In February 2021, the case was referred to the prevention of sexual harassment committee, which submitted its report in May. However, the university has not shared the report with the victim, citing “institutional interests and respect.”
The victim says the university is denying her access to the report in violation of ICC rules. She alleges that the university has been protecting the accused professor from day one, and that the members of the committees appointed to investigate her complaints were manipulated by the accused.
The victim has accused the University of prioritizing its institutional interests and respect over justice and accountability. The case highlights the need for universities to establish a safe and supportive environment for their students and staff, free from sexual harassment and discrimination.
Prof Aneesa Shafi, the head of the ICC, told Srinagar based news agency Kashmir Dot Com that “We have conducted the investigation objectively and submitted the report to the office of the Vice Chancellor. “The complainant should approach the VC office to get the report,” Shafi said without divulging the details of the recommendations of the report.
The accused professor has refuted the charges leveled against him. “These are all made up charges to defame me,” Rather said, adding that her PhD thesis was not worth submitting for final publication, so I raised objections. “Instead of improving the quality of the thesis, she started running a character assignation campaign against me,” Rather added. (KDC)