Friday, 5 February 2016

Sexual Harassment: Another Good Sign: From the Desk of the Director

I believe it is important to document everything. I believe what we, me, and some girls who complained against sexual harassment in Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), are doing is not just about us, but also about the larger problem of sexual harassment in educational institutions and workplaces. A lot of people including elected representatives of students went to the director asking him to address all the students to dispel doubts. This was because the atmosphere on campus was still largely hostile  to the complainants. The complainants were still being accused of having brought about the suspension of professors etc. The director did not address the students in a meeting, but on 27.1.2016 he published a letter. I am making it public here now because it is a step forward in the direction of safe campus for women. 

Dear students
You all know what time it is. It is worrying to say the least, punctured by gushes of anxieties and spouts of perturbations. It is definitely a time of deep concern for all of us with incidences like serious complaints of sexual harassment, suspension of three faculty members and four students, pendency of inquiry proceedings, police arrest of one assistant professor and of late, premature retirement of Dean. It has been an extremely trying time for all the stake holders like students, faculty members and employees to gather nerve in steering through this difficult phase. As we know, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going; and I need not tell you not to dissipate your energies in frivolities during tough times; I wish to suggest you to garner strengths to walk together straight through the problem and cross it with ease and elan. 

Many students in the recent days have met me to express their feelings of solidarity with one cause or the other. Their identification with such cause and effect rest on their perception and appreciation of the circumstances, which sometimes get cross-entangled with facts. Some have vented their doubts and dilemmas over the process and procedure folowed by the institute in the wake of the complaints. Many have taken exception to the acts of commission or omission by certain student(s) or faculty member(s) or employee(s) like somebody's media engagement in entirely private and personal capacity, which is purportedly offensive or prejudicial to the collective interests of the institute. More importantly, the complainants have voiced their apprehensions against attempts of isolation and intimidation towards them, leading to further harassment. Even the senior functionaries of the institute including the faculty members are not entirely unaffected by rushes of consternation over such unanticipated progression of events. I have tried to apprise and explain the developments during regular interactions with students' representatives, faculty members etc. and they have all, I must say, responded with sincerity, responsibility and maturity. Relevant orders and instructions available on our website relating to matters of sexual harassment were compiled and hard copies were circulated to all concerned. Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) comprising of internal and external members as constituted under Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and as mandated by Supreme Court in their directives (famously known as 'Visakha Guidelines') has carried out their responsibilities as entrusted upon them by the Parliamentary enactment and Supreme Court's order with due diligence. Notwithstanding everything, there appearsto float around some misgivings of both deontological as well as teleological nature, which require to be addressed appropriately, for which i wish to appeal to you to appreciate the situation with compsure and equipoise. Let me succinctly tell you some of the developments for better understanding. 

After receipt of complaints relating to sexual harassment from some girl students, the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) of SRFTI, as constituted under the provisions of SHWW(PPR) Act, 2013, after preliminary investigations, submitted a prima-facie report in the first week of December 2015. On after receipt of the preliminary report and on examination of the corroborations, three faculty members were placed under suspension and four students were ordered to leave the campus with immediate effect. Suspension and vacating the campus were ordered in view of the serious nature of the complaints and as part of the necessary measures for the inquiry to proceed in an atmosphere where the complainants do not undergo any intimidation or pressure, as prescribed in the proviso of the Act and Rules. We must know the history of the relentless struggle and undaunted activism of the Civil Society group that led to the promulgation of the Visakha Guidelines by the highest Court of the county, which in essence, make it madatory to prevent sexual harassment and provide effective mechanisms for the resolution of complaints; and which enjoined upon the government to frame the historic legislation.
The Guidelines ordained by Hon'ble Supreme Court prescribe criminal proceedings in accordance with which one complaint amounting to serious offence under sextion 375 of IPC was forwarded by SRFTI to police authorities. The law stipulates;
"Where such conduct amounts to a specific offence under the Indian Penal Code or under any other law, the employer shall initiate appropriate action in accordance with law by making a complaint with the appropriate authority."

The Apex Court has further laid down; "In particular, it should endure that victims, or witnesses are not victimized or discriminated against while dealing with complaints of sexual harassment."

Similarly, the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) is a direct consequence of the Apex Court ruling, which has cast serious obligations on the committee in discharge of their responsibilities. The complaint against the erstwhile Dean related to his attempts of trivialising the charges of sexual harassment itself assumes significance in view of the importance attached to his office in an acdemic institution. He has elected to go on premature retirement. The Committee is bound to project and protect the rights of the complainants, to recommend measures to prevent incidence of sexual harassment and further under the Law, enquire into the complaints, being a Statutory body with the powers of a civil court and submit their report to the Disciplinary Authority for appropriate action in the event of establishment of charges against the accused. 

The enquiry proceedings are in progress and as provided under Section 11(4) of the Act, the inquiry shall be completed within the period of 90 (ninety) days. The respective departments have already been advised to propose necessary arrangements to take care of the absence of faculty members due to their suspension. Similarly the academic projects of the students must not suffer due to the suspension of the students, for which Dean I/C and HODs will take necessary steps to obviate possible disruption. Chairperson of ICC is also requested to complete the proceedings expedititiously and submit the report for early final decision. 
Let me re-assure you all that the steps adopted and the procedure followed by the institute are in pursuance to the prescribed procedure as laid down under Law and orders and instructions of Govt. of India; we are all interested in knowing the truth. You have all along shown your maturity during the trying times for the institute and I am sure, you will continue to demonstrate your considered reflections and informed choices while trying to navigate through this difficult time. 
It is only a matter of few days; this will be past very soon. What is necessary is forbearance. What is more demanding and more challenging is to make our stay and study here both enlivening and memorable. The time we spend here in our institute is not a kind of predator that stalks us as Jean-Luc Picard had said. Time is the best companion in our journey, which consistently reminds us to cherish each and every moment; because it will never come again in our lives. The experiences you gather here, the relations you nourish here, the life, all come upon you as prizes of life, which are all going to contribute towards making you a better person and a better film-maker, provided you look at these events more positively de hors sick prejudices and predilections. Let us not complain about the direction of the wind. We know for sure it is going to change. Let us together adjust the sails right now for a better voyage.
It is an advice not to the students alone, but to all faculty members, all employees and all the stake holders of our Great institution 'SRFTI'

Sanjaya Pattanayak

1. All notice boards
2. SRFTI Students' Association
3. All Faculty members
4. Chairperson, ICC
5. Registrar
6. Dean

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