Visva Bharati case: Complaints panel rubbishes allegations

The chairperson of West Bengal`s Visva Bharati University`s internal complaints panel has rubbished allegations of "offering clothes and money" to the Sikkimese woman student to hush up her alleged harassment.

Kolkata: The chairperson of West Bengal`s Visva Bharati University`s internal complaints panel has rubbished allegations of "offering clothes and money" to the Sikkimese woman student to hush up her alleged harassment.

Mausumi Bhattacharyya, chairperson of the university`s internal complaints committee (ICC) for prevention of sexual harassment against women at workplace (PSHWW), Friday criticised West Bengal Commission for Women chairperson Sunanda Mukherjee for alleging that Bhattacharyya is "deliberately ignoring requests" of the panel to provide information "of recent complaints of harassment of women at Visva Bharati along with action taken..."

In a statement to the media, Bhattacharyya said: "... it has come to my knowledge that Sunanda Mukherjee ... has written to President Pranab Mukherjee alleging that I have deliberately ignored requests and have offered a student (from Sikkim) clothes and money to hush up a complaint."

She added: "Such undated (without any reference number too) letter has been posted on Facebook and is in the public domain. I need to know as to when she has ever written to the ICC-PSHWW, Visva Bharati regarding such incident and from what source has she gathered the information that I have offered money and clothes to the complainant for hushing up the matter (it is to be mentioned here that at no point of time the chairperson has interacted with the complainant alone)."

Visva Bharati has been mired in controversy following reports of alleged sexual harassment of the first year fine arts student by three students in the last week of August.

The girl, who hails from Sikkim, is undergoing treatment at the Burdwan Medical College and Hospital (BMCH) under the supervision of a team of experts especially constituted for her care.

Bhattacharyya said as per Section 16 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, "the committee is barred by confidentiality and is unable to disclose any detail regarding the proceedings of any case. In fact, contravening Section 16 attracts penal provision."

She said: "The committee ensures the privacy of the complainant at all times. Moreover, the committee is a statutory body as it has been constituted by a statute. In terms of Section 21, it is required to submit an annual report regarding the details of all cases only to its "employer" -- in this case the university and the district officer. The latter shall forward the report to the state government.

"Nowhere does it mention that the committee is required to divulge the details of such cases to the West Bengal Commission for Women."

Regarding the allegations of offering money and clothes to the woman student to hush up the matter, Bhattacharyya said: "How can she make such an absurd allegation without knowing the details of such case and then broadcast it in the public domain? She has defamed me and maligned my image and character with malicious intent. ...It is both a crime and a civil wrong."

She said: "I demand an explanation and an apology for the same and am sending a letter to her tomorrow with a copy to the deputy chairperson, West Bengal Commission for Women. I am writing a letter to the president of India in this regard too. If she (Mukherjee) doesn`t reply to my letter, I will be compelled to take legal action...," Bhattacharyya said.

A Bengal court had last Sunday sent the three accused students to three days` police custody

They were arrested last Saturday and booked for criminal intimidation and outraging the modesty of a woman. The accused have claimed innocence.

The university, founded by Asia`s first Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in Bolpur town of Birbhum district, suspended the three and lodged a police complaint following an internal probe.

The victim`s father, however, accused a university official of offering him money to hush up the matter and not to approach police.

The women`s commission has already taken cognisance of the incident and said it will seek the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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