The board of governors of Gujarat’s prestigious Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA), has sent its director RC Natarajan on a forced leave following a complaint of sexual harassment filed against him by one of its senior staff members.
The staff member had filed a police case against Natarajan for “constantly harassing her sexually.” The board simultaneously decided to extend the contract of the complainant, which was to expire April 30, 2017, till receipt of the report by the local complaint committee or till 100 days, “whichever is earlier.”
The decision to send Natarajan on leave was taken at a special meeting of the IRMA board of governors on Tuesday a day after the faculty members of the top institute declared that they would raise the allegation of sexual harassment before the board, which is chaired by an IAS official, who happens to be from the Bihar cadre.
In a letter, a group of faculty members had urged the IRMA board to give them proper hearing, alleging that the director and some anonymous callers had been “intimidating the witnesses of the sexual harassment case ever since the victim filed a police case.”
"We have received explicit as well as veiled threats even from anonymous callers," the faculty members complained in their letter, adding, "Over the past few weeks the incumbent director has in many ways tried to coerce and intimidate individual faculty and witnesses putting them under tremendous stress and pressure," the letter said.
"Under these conditions the faculty group strongly feels that they cannot function in a normal manner as long as the current director is allowed to have access to IRMA's resources during pendency of the case", the faculty members said.
The board, which met on Tuesday to discuss issues relating to the incident of sexual harassment filed against the director, appointed Dr Rakesh Saxena as director in-charge in place of Natarajan, who has been sent on leave for 100 days, or till the receipt of the inquiry report of the district’s local complaint committee before which the complainant has filed a criminal case.
“The board unequivocally reiterated its commitment to upholding ethical values of IRMA and its tradition of excellence. The board emphasized the need to adhere to gender equality and sensitivity, ethical behavior in and off campus, pursuit of academic excellence and commitment to rural poor,” said a statement issued after the board meeting.
“IRMA is one institution which had a lady director for five years. The Board is clearly of the view that there is no space for any inappropriate behavior on the part of any officer, staff, faculty and students. The Board is committed to keep IRMA as a safe place to work, learn and innovate,” the statement said.
Expressing concern at the turn of events, the board said, it has decided to take “effective steps” to prevent any case of sexual harassment in future. It also declared it would put in place “additional institutional provisions and structures” to effectively deal with future complaints.
In a press release, the board said, it “unequivocally" reiterates IRMA’s "commitment to upholding its ethical values of IRMA and its tradition of excellence”, adding, “The board emphasized the need to adhere to gender equality and sensitivity, ethical behavior in and off campus, pursuit of academic excellence and commitment to rural poor.”
It asserted, “IRMA is one institution which had a lady Director for 5 years. The Board is clearly of the view that there is no space for any inappropriate behavior on the part of any officer, staff, Faculty and students. The board is committed to keep IRMA as a safe place to work, learn and innovate.”
*Consulting Editor (Political), United News of India