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Ashoka University accused of toning down sexual abuse complaint against prof to ‘misconduct’

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Complaint was filed by a teaching assistant from another university. Now students and alumni of Ashoka have started an online drive seeking justice. 

New Delhi: Ashoka University has been accused of toning down a complaint of sexual harassment against a professor to just “misconduct” in an internal inquiry.

This has led the alumni and students of the university to launch an online campaign to demand justice for the complainant, who was a teaching assistant on the campus in 2016.

She filed a complaint against professor Mitul Baruah at another Delhi-based university where she works full-time after returning there early last year. That university set up a committee to investigate the allegations and concluded that Baruah had “abused patriarchal power”.

However, that university said it didn’t have the jurisdiction to take action and passed on the complaint to the Ashoka administration.

Baruah is among those named in law student Raya Sarkar’s crowd-sourced list of ‘sexual harassers in academia’. Ashoka alumni said Baruah’s name on the list was not the result of the teaching assistant’s complaint.

ThePrint reached Baruah for comment by mail, but did not receive a response until the time of publishing. This report will be updated when he replies.

Ashoka University’s public relations director Anjoo Mohun said “the process is still ongoing”, when asked about the case.

“We are following the highest standards of processes laid down by the government and the Vishaka committee (which laid down guidelines to act against sexual harassment at the workplace). The students discuss things among themselves, we cannot comment on anything. Once the process is over the truth will come out,” she said.

The Inquiry

Once the complaint was forwarded to Ashoka University, a disciplinary committee was formed to look into the matter. The panel concluded that the “actions of defendant would not fall under the ambit of workplace sexual harassment…”

“Dr Baruah is guilty of misconduct according to all ethical norms of professional conduct and conduct at workplace,” it added.

The committee also urged Ashoka University to seek legal advice in the matter. No action has, however, been taken so far although the report was submitted in April.

But the panel set up by the other university arrived at an entirely different conclusion.

“The relationship between complainant and her defendant had been mostly consensual but it involved manipulative consent on the part of the defendant with abuse of patriarchal power in the professional sphere centered around the workplace,” it said in its report.

“The defendant engaged in inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour, given his position in the hierarchy vis-à-vis the complainant…” it added.

These details have been cited in a website set up by Ashoka University’s alumni and current students,

“It (the Ashoka inquiry) overlooked the fact that the report of the other university concluded that there was ‘abuse of patriarchal power in the professional sphere’, and that there was ‘manipulative consent’ involved,” said an open letter on the website.

“There is no clarity in Ashoka University’s report on why it directly contradicts the report of the other university,” the letter said.

The campaign demands action against Baruah and “full clarity on the handling of the case”.

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