GNLU inquiry seems cover-up effort to save its image: HC on PIL alleging rape of student by her batchmate

The Gujarat High Court, hearing a suo motu PIL alleging harassment of a queer student of Gujarat National Law University and rape of a female student by her batchmate, on Wednesday said the institution is seemingly trying to cover up the issue to save its image.

This observation was made by the division bench of Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice Aniruddha P Mayee while hearing a suo motu PIL (Public Interest Litigation) on a newspaper report regarding the alleged incident.

“We fail to understand as to how, and in what manner, the institute is dealing with a report which was published in the newspaper on September 22, 2023, more so when the intimation about such alleged incident was received by the Registrar, GNLU, as per his own admission, on September 19, 2023,” the bench noted, referring to the affidavit filed by the GNLU Registrar.

“The manner in which the inquiry is being done by the university seems to be an effort to cover up the whole issue, to save the image of the institution,” the high court stated.

A news item regarding the alleged harassment of a queer student and rape of a female student by her batchmate at the Gandhinagar-based GNLU was published by a newspaper.

GNLU Registrar stated in the affidavit filed before the high court that there appears to be no substance in the anonymous post posted on Instagram which was quoted in the newspaper report.

The high court also took exception to the manner in which the chairperson of the university’s recently reconstituted internal complaint committee (ICC) was made a member of the fact-finding committee set up to look into the allegations reported in the newspaper.

It also noted that the fact-finding committee has not submitted its report till date.

The high court had taken suo motu cognisance of the newspaper report, saying the alleged incident “raises an issue of grave concern which has a direct impact on the psychological and physical well-being of students.”

The GNLU registrar stated that he had received WhatsApp messages on September 19, 2023, from an assistant professor of GNLU and the warden of the girls’ hostel regarding the issue.

He then asked the warden of the girls’ hostel to inquire. The warden reported that none of the around 80 girls at the hostel whom she interviewed had any information regarding the alleged incident.

Anjani Singh Tomar, the university’s ICC chairperson and the professor of law at the GNLU, submitted a similar report on October 7 stating that no student came to meet her and depose in connection with the email circulated by the registrar.

“The affidavit filed by the registrar, GNLU, seems to be an over-anxious effort to hush-hush the whole matter in a summary way by stating that there does not appear to be any substance in the anonymous post posted on Instagram,” the high court noted in its order.

The bench wondered how the same person, who had submitted the report dated October 7, had been made a member of the fact-finding committee.

It also noted that students were agitated regarding the constitution of the internal complaint committee and it was reconstituted on September 26.

The bench sought to know about the working of the ICC before its reconstitution and directed the GNLU to submit the annual report of the last three years of the ICC and its constitution before the court. .

Kamal Trivedi, appearing on behalf of GNLU, submitted in the HC that he will conduct an inquiry in his capacity as the Advocate General of Gujarat to ensure that the fact-finding panel is reconstituted with independent members of the society having no connection with the institution at all being its members.

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In its previous order, the high court had directed the university to identify the two students and record their statements, while maintaining total confidentiality. The statement of the female student shall be recorded by a woman member or professor of the university only, it said.

The high court said that in case the allegations are found to be genuine and inspire confidence, necessary steps as permissible under the law shall be taken immediately.

The male student “has suffered mental trauma due to the harassment meted out to him only for the reason of him being a queer, and the other female student has levelled allegation of rape by a batchmate,” it stated.

The newspaper report also refers to the defunct ICC, and the response of the GNLU spokesperson specifies non receipt of a formal complaint by the students.

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