The Internal Complaints Committee at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, is undertaking enquiries into a complaint filed by a student against one of its faculty members, identified in news reports thus far only as an esteemed scientist in an engineering department.
The institute’s policy of dealing with sexual harassment at the workplace includes a clause, among other common provisions, that protects the privacy of the complainant and the respondent even after the committee has completed its enquiries and recommended a course of action to the employer. It also prevents the disclosure of the nature of this recommendation and what the employer chooses to do. Finally, the policy also overrides provisions in the RTI Act, thus rendering it (almost) impossible to identify the defendant even after the investigation has been completed.
Notwithstanding anything contained in the Right to Information Act, 2005, the contents of the Complaint made under this Policy, the identity and addresses of the Aggrieved woman/ , respondent and witnesses, any information relating to the conciliation and inquiry proceedings, recommendations of the IC and the action taken by an employer under this Policy, shall not be published, communicated, or made known to the public, press or media in any manner; Provided that any information may be disclosed/disseminated for securing justice to the victim of sexual harassment without disclosing the name, identity or any other particulars vis-a-vis the aggrieved woman/victim/complainant and witnesses.
This is certainly odd because, as Shuba Desikan wrote in The Hindu, “In the age of active voices on social media, this reluctance of the directors to communicate the situation to the media is … not just going to give rise to speculation, but it is also part of the suffocating stranglehold of patriarchal values that protects perpetrators, even alleged ones.”
Additionally, as an institute of significant standing and which attracts and trains some of the best scientific talent in India, IISc’s policy of silence – and the sanctions it threatens upon those who violate it – compels students to repose their faith in the institutional due process while also staving off public accountability. Let’s not forget that naming and shaming, for all of its suspected flaws, was the central instrument of action in the recent and ongoing #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, reminding society at large that there is no need to put up with due process should it fail as much as it actually has. In the end, IISc has a responsibility to provide a safe living and working environment to its students, and opening up about the identities of offending scientists as well as about what it is doing to address the situation can only leave the institute better off.