17 April 2023 7:16 AM GMT
The Madras High Court on Monday said that it will decide on reconstituting the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to look into the allegations of sexual harassment against the faculty of the Kalakshetra Foundation."I have decided to form a committee. For the interest of the students, we have to protect the foundation. The Foundation has a respectable name, and has had a long standing. Its...
The Madras High Court on Monday said that it will decide on reconstituting the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to look into the allegations of sexual harassment against the faculty of the Kalakshetra Foundation.
"I have decided to form a committee. For the interest of the students, we have to protect the foundation. The Foundation has a respectable name, and has had a long standing. Its name should be protected for all the girls studying there and for their well-being. We must ensure that the interest of all the students, studying in the institute/coming out of the institute, is protected," the court said.
Justice M Dhandapani made the observations during the hearing of a plea filed by a group of students from Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts, functioning under Kalakshetra Foundation, who had approached the court for formulation of proper safety policies and redressal mechanisms in the college.
In December 2022, one the former Directors of the foundation had made a Facebook post accusing a male teacher of molesting and threatening the students. This led to many other students coming forward with similar instances of sexual harassment. The students sat on dharna demanding action from the college. A police complaint was made by one of the students, based on which, a faculty member was arrested.
A group of seven students have now approached the high court seeking safety policies and robust redressal mechanisms. The students also prayed for reconstituting the ICC with student and parent representatives.
Senior Advocate R Vaigai, appearing alongwith Advocate Anna Mathew, submitted that the establishment was not taking up any responsibility and had rejected the complaints saying that the time limit of three months under The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013 (POSH) had expired.
Vaigai said that it is a matter of concern where students have been subjected to sexual harassment. "The court knows that the moment these things happen people don't talk about it straightaway. It takes courage," she said.
It was also submitted that since minor students were also studying in the institution, the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the CCS (Conduct) Rules will also be applicable. The petitioners argued that these laws, unlike POSH, do not provide a time limit for filing complaints.
The petitioners also submitted that the institution, instead of taking up the issue and suspending the accused professor, had merely stone walled the complaints.
"The establishment is showing no responsibility. They are stone walling the complaints. They are assaulting the complainants. They are putting the garb of an internal inquiry. But no suspension. Moreover he is honoured on women's day. He was placed on suspension only on his day of arrest," Vaigai said.
Though Additional Solicitor General ARL Sundaresan raised strong objections to the allegations made, the court noted that it was important to protect the interest of the students.
The court restrained the college from taking any adverse action against the students, including the petitioners, who raised complaints and sat for Dharna against the institution. It also directed the institute to restrain the suspended faculty from entering its premises, contacting the students or interfering with the administration of the institute.
The court also called for the inquiry report of the Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women.
Further, keeping in mind the nature of the issue, the court also allowed the interim prayer of the petitioner students to keep their identity anonymous. Though the ASG argued that it was important to know the identity to answer the allegations, the court did not agree with the submission.
The matter has now been posted to April 24 to decide on the issue of ICC among other matters.
Case Title: XYZ and others v. Kalakshetra Foundation and others
Case No: WP 11764 of 2023